- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — Livan Hernandez says he never pitches well in spring training.

The Cleveland Indians sure don’t buy that claim.

Hernandez enjoyed his third straight solid outing of the spring yesterday, a dominating six-inning performance in the Washington Nationals’ 4-3 exhibition victory over the Indians at Space Coast Stadium.

The Nationals’ Opening Day starter was perfect through four innings before Juan Gonzalez finally reached base on a fly ball double just out of the reach of left fielder Matt Cepicky. Hernandez wound up departing after six innings, having allowed just one run on three hits, walking none and striking out five.

“Vintage Livan Hernandez,” manager Frank Robinson said. “And all he’s going to do is keep getting sharper. … When he’s in a groove, he doesn’t waste pitches. He just goes after hitters.”

Hernandez went after the Indians with his full array of pitches — fastball, curveball, slider, change-up — and in actuality, threw more than four different pitches when you count his slow curve. That knee-buckling pitch was the veteran right-hander’s best weapon yesterday, making some of Cleveland’s hitters look silly.

“It’s something I’ve been working on for, I don’t know how many years, three or four,” Hernandez said. “And it’s working for me.”

Despite his history of poor spring training performances, Hernandez has been downright dominating this year. In three starts, he has posted a 2.57 ERA, issuing just one walk in 14 innings.

He has done so by showing an ability to throw any pitch for strikes in any situation. He routinely pulled the string on his curveball when behind in the count yesterday.

“He doesn’t mind falling behind guys,” catcher Brian Schneider said. “Guys are looking for fastballs when they’re ahead in the count. He just has so much control of every pitch. @ 2-1, 3-0, 3-1, you want to throw an off-speed pitch? That’s no big deal.”

Injury update

Reliever Francis Beltran underwent successful elbow ligament-replacement surgery yesterday in Birmingham, Ala. The procedure, commonly known as Tommy John surgery, will sideline the right-hander 12 to 18 months. He is expected back in Viera today and will begin his long rehabilitation tomorrow.

Jose Vidro, still bothered by a hyper-extended right elbow, said he hopes to be back in the lineup tomorrow. The All-Star second baseman needs to start playing regularly after playing minimally through the first two weeks of exhibition games while recovering from last year’s knee surgery. The club believes Vidro’s knee is no longer an issue, and he just needs to get some at-bats (he has just six) to get back into game-shape.

Outfielder Terrmel Sledge played in last night’s split-squad game against the Astros after missing six days with a sprained right shoulder.

Right-hander Claudio Vargas, meanwhile, threw live batting practice yesterday for the first time this spring. Vargas, who is dealing with a sore elbow, is not expected to be ready for the start of the season.

Extra bases

Robinson experimented with corner infielder Tony Blanco in left field late in yesterday’s game, with shaky results. Blanco, a Rule 5 acquisition who leads the club with five RBI this spring, overran a routine fly ball in the ninth that helped later bring a run across. He also almost dropped the game-ending line drive. Blanco also had trouble last season when the Cincinnati Reds experimented with playing him in left field for Class A Potomac. …

Left-hander Mike Hinckley took the news of his demotion to Class AA Harrisburg on Monday tough, and needing time to recover, he and some friends spent the rest of the day at Disney World. The 22-year-old prospect was back at Space Coast Stadium yesterday, determined to earn his way back onto the major league roster. “[Major league hitters] are good, but I know I can get them out,” said Hinckley, who gave up eight earned runs and 14 hits in six innings.

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