- The Washington Times - Friday, July 22, 2005

When he walked out of RFK Stadium on Wednesday night, Livan Hernandez was “99.9 percent” sure he would have to shut himself down and undergo surgery on his ailing right knee.

By the time Hernandez arrived back at the ballpark yesterday afternoon, that .1 percent sliver of uncertainty had become actuality.

“I feel good today,” Hernandez said. “Not 100 percent, but I feel much better and I’m not going to miss a start.”

With that, the Nationals were able to breathe again, a potential crisis having been averted. But not before the entire baseball world had a full news cycle to speculate what was wrong with Hernandez.

And not before the ace right-hander delivered a profanity-laced, five-minute tirade against the media, which he believes misrepresented his remarks the night before.

“You don’t know [expletive] about me,” Hernandez said in a packed clubhouse. “You don’t know my [expletive] knee, how it hurt last night. You don’t know nothing.”

A few minutes later, a much calmer Hernandez gathered reporters back around his locker and tried to explain the situation surrounding his injured knee and comments Wednesday night.

He said he was simply frustrated by the Nationals’ 3-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies and that he never intended to abandon his team in the middle of a pennant race. He will make his next scheduled start Tuesday night in Atlanta.

“I never quit,” Hernandez said. “And I never quit now, because I’m pitching with my knee more than 17 starts like that. I never quit. Somebody else maybe quit but not me.

“I’m going to make every start now. I don’t have any problem. Last night I didn’t feel good. I worked because I need to go work. But trust me, inside my body, nobody knows what happened.”

The interview session ended before Hernandez had a chance to explain who or what he was upset at Wednesday night, but several club sources said the veteran pitcher was not mad at manager Frank Robinson or any teammates.

Truth be told, Robinson wasn’t overly concerned about Hernandez’s original comments. The manager attributed it to the pressures that come with a midseason slump like the Nationals have endured the last two weeks.

“That’s basically all it is, I think. He was a little frustrated, a little upset, and it probably all kind of came out,” said Robinson, whose club had lost 10 of 14 entering last night’s game against the Houston Astros. “We’re all human beings. We all have to let off a little steam when we’re frustrated. And we’re all a little frustrated right now by the way we’re playing.”

Robinson had no plans to meet with Hernandez, but general manager Jim Bowden sat down with the pitcher to get a first-hand account.

“He’s fine,” Bowden said. “Something got taken out of context. I wasn’t there, I don’t know. That really doesn’t matter. What’s important is that he feels good today. We expect him out there every fifth day. The guy’s a winner, and we’re glad he’s at the top of our rotation.”

Nationals players showed no concerns either, though they did plan to hold a meeting before the game to address a variety of issues.

Hernandez (12-4) pitched seven innings in Wednesday night’s loss, surrendering three runs and tying a modern major league record by hitting four batters. He has been pitching with an injured right knee since mid-May, and though it clearly has bothered him at times, he has never used it as an excuse.

Hernandez said his knee hurt worse than usual Wednesday, particularly when he was running down the first-base line. He said he could barely walk after the game, and that the knee felt “like it wanted to explode.”

That’s why he originally said he would almost certainly need to undergo surgery. Hernandez, though, said at the time he would wait to see how he felt the following morning before making a final decision.

And sure enough, he felt better upon waking up yesterday.

“My knee is perfect today,” Hernandez said. “Last night it’s not perfect.”

Hernandez acknowledged he still will need to be operated on following the season, but the Nationals don’t believe the issue will arise again until then.

“This guy’s a gamer and a winner, period,” Bowden said. “To me, it’s a chapter that’s behind us. Let’s shut it and go forward.”

Notes — Bowden said he expects Barry Larkin to decide Tuesday whether to come out of retirement and play shortstop for the Nationals. The 41-year-old former Cincinnati Reds great suggested this week that he’s more inclined to come back now than he was earlier in the season. …

Nick Johnson took live batting practice with the rest of the Nationals for the first time since bruising his right heel June26. Johnson, who reported no serious pain, could begin a rehabilitation assignment this weekend and return to Washington’s lineup late next week.

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