- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

NEW YORK | Livan Hernandez has started 388 more games, earned 151 more wins and pitched his way out of more jams at the major league level than Craig Stammen can ever dream of escaping himself.

If Stammen can produce even half the career Hernandez has fashioned over the last 13 years, the young Washington Nationals right-hander will have made a good living.

Right now though, the bright-eyed rookie can’t match up with the sage old veteran, who proved he’s still got it Tuesday night during a 6-1 victory over his former mates.

With nine innings of one-run ball, Hernandez gave the New York Mets a much-needed gem while besting Stammen, who was a bit ragged during his second career outing and in the process suffered his first career loss.

In a performance that looked all too familiar to Nationals fans who rooted for Hernandez as their staff ace in 2005 and 2006, the big right-hander put himself into trouble just about every inning yet emerged unscathed almost every time.

And with his team comfortably ahead and his starter cruising, Mets manager Jerry Manuel let Hernandez hit for himself in the eighth - drawing a big roar from the Citi Field crowd of 39,376 - and then retake the mound in search of his 46th career complete game.

“A lot of people can learn from this guy,” Washington manager Manny Acta said. “He’s been doing it for so many years. He’s never willing to give into the hitters, and he’s not afraid to throw the ball over the plate when he has to.”

Contrast that with Stammen, who lasted only five innings and couldn’t escape the couple of jams he got into, and the end result - Washington’s 14th loss in 17 games - might as well have been a foregone conclusion.

“He really knows how to pitch,” Stammen said of Hernandez. “For a young guy like me, I can look at how he pitches and goes about his business… and learn something from it. He did good tonight. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to match him.”

There were a couple of late fireworks, with reliever Jason Bergmann surrendering a three-run homer to Gary Sheffield in the seventh - with no repeat of Monday’s fan interference dispute - and then throwing his next pitch (a curveball) over Fernando Tatis’ head.

Plate umpire Dan Iassogna immediately warned Bergmann and both benches, a decision that surprised the entire Washington dugout.

“It was a curveball,” Bergmann said. “I was trying to throw it over the plate, not over his head.”

Added Acta: “That’s today’s game for you. You give up a home run, you might as well give up another one and throw the ball right down the middle. But you can’t come even close [to the batter], because that’s how the game is played nowadays.”

Stammen didn’t have particularly sharp command either. The 25-year-old reached the majors and enjoyed a successful debut last week because he pounded the strike zone with fastballs and then worked ahead of hitters. But he wasn’t nearly as precise Tuesday night, falling behind in the count and getting into trouble against the bottom of New York’s lineup.

The Mets scored their first run on back-to-back doubles by unheralded Nos. 7 and 8 hitters Omir Santos and Ramon Martinez. Their next two runs were driven in by Tatis (a journeyman) and Fernando Martinez (the organization’s top prospect who was promoted from Class AAA earlier in the day).

All told, Stammen (0-1) allowed three runs while putting 10 men on base (seven hits, two walks, one hit batter). Last week, it took him only 68 pitches to get through six innings. On Tuesday night he was pulled after only five innings with his pitch count at 95.

“I learned a lot,” he said. “I learned how to pitch when things aren’t really going your way. I didn’t really have too much trouble the last time. … Just one of them outings where you try to keep your team in the game.”

But Stammen wasn’t entirely to blame. His teammates certainly could have given him a little more offensive support.

As it was, they managed only one run off Hernandez, that coming on Adam Dunn’s solo homer in the seventh inning. The opposite-field blast was Dunn’s 15th of the season, tops on the 2009 Nationals.

Of course, that also would have been tops on the 2008 Nationals, who didn’t have anyone hit more than 14 home runs during a 102-loss season.

Ryan Zimmerman wound up going 0-for-4, ending his streak of consecutive games reaching base at 43.