CHICAGO | Not wanting any of their young starting pitchers to pile up too many innings at this early stage of their development, the Washington Nationals turned to an old friend to help get them through the rest of the season.
The Nationals signed Livan Hernandez late Tuesday night and wasted no time inserting the veteran right-hander into their rotation. He'll start Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs, bumping four of Washington's other starters back a day and Collin Balester to Class AAA Syracuse.
The surprising move, which was announced after the Nationals completed a 15-6 thumping of the Cubs, was made out of necessity more than anything. With his team well out of contention, general manager Mike Rizzo said he does not want to overwork any of his young starters (Balester, Garrett Mock, Craig Stammen, J.D. Martin) and risk injury.
"We're running out of innings with some of these young guys," Rizzo said. "I refuse to push them past their limits. And Livan was available. He's a good guy in the clubhouse. He's got some friends here on the ballclub. He's, if nothing else, a workhorse and a reliable arm to get us some innings and get us through the rest of the season."
Hernandez, 34, threw the first pitch in Nationals history in 2005 and won 24 games over two seasons before he was traded to Arizona for Mock and Matt Chico. He pitched for three different clubs the last two seasons and was released by the New York Mets last week after going 7-8 with a 5.47 ERA in 23 starts.
Hernandez's return will push Martin back to Thursday's finale at Wrigley Field. John Lannan will start Friday in St. Louis, followed by Stammen and Mock.
Balester, who went 1-4 with a 6.82 ERA in seven starts, will pitch once for Syracuse but then will be recalled once rosters expand in September. To make room on the 40-man roster for Hernandez, the Nationals transferred injured first baseman Dmitri Young to the 60-day disabled list.
When the Washington Nationals traded Nick Johnson at the July 31 deadline, Adam Dunn became an everyday first baseman, not so much because of his natural ability there but more out of sheer necessity.
Nearly a month since the switch, the 6-foot-6 slugger looks surprisingly comfortable in his new position, a pleasant surprise for team officials.
"He's improved greatly," Rizzo said. "I'm not going to go so far as to say he's better than I expected him to be. But he's improved a lot over at first base. He's still, even in his own mind, a work in progress over there. ... But I like the progress he's making."
Dunn has played 22 games at first base since the Johnson trade and committed only one error for a sparkling .995 fielding percentage. This after committing four errors in only 83 innings at first base before July 31.
Reliever Sean Burnett played catch Tuesday afternoon and felt no ill effects from his bruised thumb. The left-hander, who was injured by a comebacker Sunday, was still bothered by swelling Monday and was held out of Washington's game against the Milwaukee Brewers.
But Tuesday's throwing session eased the club's concerns, and Burnett was cleared to resume pitching as needed.
"He threw pretty well," Rizzo said. "He's feeling much better today. So... there's not much concern."
Meanwhile, center fielder Nyjer Morgan was scratched from Tuesday night's lineup because of flulike symptoms. Interim manager Jim Riggleman hopes to have Morgan back in the lineup Wednesday.
Five to fall league
Rizzo revealed five of the six players the Nationals will send to the Arizona Fall League, including both of this year's first-round draft picks: Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen.
In addition to those two, Washington will send first baseman Chris Marrero, catcher Derek Norris and shortstop Danny Espinosa to the offseason league for top prospects, which runs from mid-October to late November. One more spot will be filled by a yet-to-be-determined reliever, with all six farmhands playing for the Phoenix Dirt Dogs.
Though teams are allowed to send only two players to the Fall League who have yet to reach Class AA, the Nationals are sending three: Strasburg, Norris and Espinosa. Strasburg, though, is allowed to attend because he's on a major league contract.