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Livan may take a knee
The loss -- 3-2 to the lowly Colorado Rockies -- was bad enough.
But that setback at RFK Stadium last night is insignificant in comparison to the loss the Washington Nationals would feel if Livan Hernandez sticks to his word and shuts himself down for reasons heretofore unknown.
Hernandez, the losing pitcher last night, said he is "99.9 percent" sure he will undergo surgery on the right knee that has bothered him nearly the entire season.
Not because it's having a negative effect on his performance but apparently because he has a long-standing beef with someone or something associated with the Nationals franchise.
Hernandez would not clarify what that beef is or who it's with. But his frustration came across loud and clear to anyone who crowded around his locker following the game.
"Something's bothering me, but it's not my knee," Hernandez said. "I'll tell you after the season."
Hernandez (12-4) did promise to inform everyone today about his decision whether to undergo what almost certainly would be season-ending surgery. A team spokesman said the right-hander was looked at by medical personnel after he departed last night's game following the seventh inning. He will undergo a full examination today.
"I will make [the decision] tomorrow," he said. "I will go to sleep tonight, think about it and then we'll see."
The way Hernandez spoke last night, saying there's only a "1 percent" chance he won't go under the knife, that decision would appear to have been made.
Perhaps club officials, who were blindsided by his cryptic comments, will convince the ace hurler otherwise. If they can't, the Nationals suddenly face the impossible task of replacing their best pitcher, one who to date has made a case for Cy Young Award consideration.
"I have no answers for you," manager Frank Robinson said when told of Hernandez's remarks. "I don't have a full picture of it. He's had his knee [injury] for quite some time now, and he's pitched with it. [EnLeader] As far as we're concerned, he has not indicated it's gotten worse."
Informed that Hernandez was threatening to undergo surgery because he is upset, not because his knee is hurting, Robinson replied, "I have no idea who he's mad at."
Hernandez's bizarre situation couldn't come at a worse time for a Washington club that has now lost four straight series and 10 of 14 games and seen its lead over the Atlanta Braves shrink to a half-game.
This week constituted a new low: The Nationals became the first team this season to lose a home series to the Rockies, who came to town with a 7-36 road record yet left having taken two of three at RFK.
"On paper, it looks like it would have been easy," Brad Wilkerson said. "But we need to find a way to score some runs and figure out what we're doing right now. We've got to come out tomorrow and try to improve."
As has been the case throughout this prolonged stretch, Washington ultimately was done in by a lack of offense. Despite some early scoring opportunities, the Nationals were held to three runs or less for the ninth time in their last 14 games.
They gave one last-gasp effort against Rockies closer Brian Fuentes in the ninth, getting a two-out double from Ryan Church, who then took third on a wild pitch. Fuentes hit Carlos Baerga on the arm, bringing an ailing Vinny Castilla off the bench to pinch hit. But Castilla roped a line drive right at shortstop Desi Relaford to end the game, then limped off the field favoring his bad left knee.
"I had it," said Castilla, who hadn't swung a bat in two days since going to the bench for some rest. "I thought I hit it good."
The ninth-inning rally might not have been necessary had the Nationals taken advantage of some early scoring opportunities.
Jamey Carroll, Jose Vidro and Wilkerson all hit nearly identical line drives over second baseman Aaron Miles' head to open the first, but only Carroll scored because Vidro and Wilkerson were thrown out on the bases. Vidro, who doubled in Carroll, was nailed trying to take third on an errant throw. Wilkerson was doubled off first after Jose Guillen popped out on a hit-and-run.
"We gave [Colorado starter Jason Jennings] an out that he shouldn't have had," Robinson said. "I know what [Vidro] was thinking. But you've got to be sure you can get to that extra base. You just have to use better judgment."
But those missed scoring opportunities proved costly when Hernandez - who tied a modern major league record by hitting four batters in his seven innings - gave up the lead later. Matt Holliday doubled in the Rockies' first run in the fifth. One inning later, Hernandez surrendered a two-run homer to catcher J.D. Closser that gave Colorado the lead for good.
Hernandez departed for a pinch-hitter in the seventh. Perhaps today he will inform everyone else whether he plans to be back on the mound for his next scheduled start Tuesday in Atlanta.
"It's hard for me, believe me," he said. "It's not easy for me. I love my teammates. I love this team. They're not going to quit. Everyone in the organization knows I'm going to do my best."
By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
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