Hernandez’s strong start pushes Nats over .500

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It was almost like old times for the Nationals Saturday afternoon, with Livan Hernandez on the mound and the team looking to climb above the .500 mark for the first time since 2008.

Thanks to the veteran right-hander’s complete-game shutout, and a three-run second inning punctuated with a Justin Maxwell two-run homer, Washington grabbed a 8-0 win over the Brewers to move to 6-5 on the season. It’s also the first time the Nats have been above .500 11 games into the season since the team’s first homestand ever back at RFK Stadium in April of 2005.

Hernandez — who was part of that 2005 squad that was part of Washington’s first Major League Baseball franchise since the Senators left D.C. in 1971 — was effective in his second start of the season, scattering four hits and getting himself out of a bases-loaded jam in the second inning by inducing a double play from his Brewers counterpart, Randy Wolf. As the game progressed, Hernandez became more in command, not yielding a base hit after Wolf hit a single in the fifth inning.

Despite his late signing and making only two spring appearances, through two starts this season for Washington, Hernandez (2-0) hasn’t yielded an earned run, and gave the Nats’ bullpen chance to rest in the Nats’ third straight win.

“He kind of exemplifies what we’re trying to do with in terms of our pitching staff,” Washington manager Jim Riggleman said of Hernandez’s performance. “We’re not a strikeout staff … but just [to] throw strikes, put the ball in play and let the defense work. He has no fear, he throws any of his pitches anytime for strikes and fields his position. He’s everything we want from a pitcher, [he’s] got a loose arm and always ready to pitch, and he’s had two great outings so far.”

“I feel good,” Hernandez said of his first complete-game shutout since being a member of the Expos in 2004. “It depends on how you feel. You don’t feel this good every day, but I felt good today.”

At the plate, Maxwell — who was recalled from Syracuse on Thursday — finished the day with three RBI after driving in Ivan Rodriguez in the sixth — just after the veteran catcher drive in a pair himself — to blow the game wide open.

“That’s why Maxwell was a high draft pick, we kind of are hoping he can do that now and then,” Riggleman said. “The ball really jumps off his bat and his athleticism speaks for itself.”

Ryan Zimmerman also returned to the starting lineup after being injured in last Saturday’s game against the Mets, and recorded a pair of RBI doubles to help Washington’s cause in front of 18,673 on a blustery day at Nationals Park. He also added a nice defensive gem in the ninth, robbing Casey McGehee of a hit down the line with a great stab.

Hernandez started out the game by striking out Rickie Weeks, and then grabbed a comebacker from Craig Counsell for a quick second out. After Ryan Braun hit a single through the middle for the Brewers’ first hit, Hernandez got a long fly out from Prince Fielder to end the top of the first.

Nyjer Morgan popped out to center to open the bottom half, then Guzman lined out to Casey McGehee. Zimmerman walked in his first at-bat, but Adam Dunn grounded out to second to end the frame.

McGehee struck out to open the second, but Jim Edmonds smacked a double to the out-of-town scoreboard in center. Corey Hart walked, and George Kottaras got a free pass after running a full count on Hernandez. However, Hernandez got out of the jam when he forced opposing pitcher Randy Wolf to ground back to the mound, leading to a force out at home and the throw from Ivan Rodriguez to beat Wolf to first for the double play to keep Milwaukee off the board.

That twin killing was huge for the Nationals, who then struck for three runs in the bottom half of the second inning.

“The pitcher put it down, so I had to make a chance to get a double play and it happened,” Hernandez said.

Josh Willingham opened the frame with a walk, and Ian Desmond moved him over to second base with a sac bunt. With Willingham going to third on a full count, Rodriguez hit a single just over the glove of a leaping Counsell at short to drive Willingham in for Washington’s first run of the game.

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About the Author
Ted Starkey

Ted Starkey

Ted Starkey, a Web editor for the continuous news desk, has written for and edited high-traffic websites, including AOL News, AOL Sports, FanHouse.com, USAHockey.com and BuffaloBills.com. He also has covered the 2002 and 2010 Winter Olympics, Stanley Cup playoffs, NFL, NHL, MLB and NCAA hockey during his career.

He is a graduate of American University, with a double major in ...

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