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Nationals give Hernandez contract extension

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WASHINGTON | Livan Hernandez's ability to mentor young pitchers, coupled with an unforeseen opening in the Washington rotation, has earned the 35-year-old right-hander a one-year contract extension from the Nationals.

Washington general manager Mike Rizzo announced after Sunday's victory over the St. Louis Cardinals that Hernandez would return to the Nationals in 2011, lending some stability to a starting staff that will be without Stephen Strasburg.

"The time he gives with our young guys, it's something we think he's earned and deserves," Rizzo said. "He can be a guy for us, through the winter, that we know he's part of the ballclub and we know every fifth day we'll be handing him the ball and having a quality start."

Terms were not disclosed.

With Strasburg expected to undergo Tommy John surgery this week to repair a torn ligament in his right elbow and miss most of the 2011 season, Rizzo moved quickly to lock up Hernandez, who is 9-9 with a 3.49 ERA in 27 starts this season.

"I always want to come back and play here," said Hernandez. "They give me a chance to come back another year and hopefully more years. ... It's a dream come true."

Washington reunited with the 1997 World Series MVP for a third time this year, signing Hernandez on Feb. 24 to a minor league contract with a spring training invitation.

Hernandez heeded Rizzo's advice to report to camp in better condition and has become "a cornerstone and leader of the pitching rotation."

"He wants to pitch for quite a few more years. ... For him to do that, he had to get himself in better shape. He really worked hard to get his body into shape. He's always been a terrific athlete with a durable arm that could give you a lot of innings," Rizzo said.

Hernandez is 35-31 with a 4.27 in 94 career starts with the Nationals and is the team's all-time leader in wins, starts, innings pitched (617) and strikeouts (354).

In 15 seasons with Florida, San Francisco, Montreal, Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota and the New York Mets, Hernandez is 165-160 with a 4.39 ERA in 440 games, all but one of them starts.

"This year, I prove I can continue to pitch for a long time," Hernandez said. "It's a good year for me. I got to prove — and I said in spring training — that I want to come back and perform like I used to. ... It's happened right now and I feel really good about myself."

Hernandez is the only active major leaguer to start 30 or more games in 12 consecutive seasons. He can extend the streak to 13 with three more starts this year.

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