- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2005

PHILADELPHIA — Washington ace Livan Hernandez called it one bad pitch, but he just did not look like himself in the first game in Nationals history.

That bad pitch essentially meant the Nationals wouldn’t start life with a victory. Philadelphia center fielder Kenny Lofton turned the fifth-inning slider into a three-run homer and a 7-1 Phillies lead.

“The day was perfect for pitching,” Hernandez said of the sunny but blustery conditions on Opening Day. “I got one bad pitch, and Kenny Lofton hit a home run, and that wins the game. I feel good on the mound, that’s more important.”

Hernandez, who led the Grapefruit League this spring with 33 innings pitched, was coming off a masterful eight-inning performance against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday in his last spring start.

But yesterday, Hernandez lasted just 42/3 innings and allowed seven runs on eight hits. The Cuban right-hander threw 92 pitches, walked two and struck out four.

“He just didn’t have his best stuff today,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said.

Still, there were two contributing factors: wind and a soggy pitcher’s mound. According to Nationals catcher Brian Schneider, wind can wreak havoc on a breaking ball pitcher like Hernandez. Strong winds can dry a pitcher’s hands, making it tougher to grip the ball.

Gusts reached in excess of 20 mph yesterday.

In the second inning, Hernandez threw one pitch to Phillies left fielder Pat Burrell and immediately had a conference on the mound with home plate umpire Gary Darling, Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire and Schneider.

“The mound was too wet,” Hernandez said. “Every pitch I threw, and [Phillies starter Jon] Lieber too, was complaining about the mound, that it was too wet. It was difficult to pitch like that.”

Trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning, Hernandez quickly ran into trouble when Jimmy Rollins singled to right. With one out in the inning, Hernandez intentionally walked slugger Jim Thome to load the bases.

Pat Burrell, who went 3-for-3 with two RBI, hit a sacrifice fly to center to score Rollins. Then, up came Lofton.

On the first pitch, Hernandez came inside with his slider, and Lofton muscled it 352 feet just inside the right-field foul pole.

“It was a slider inside that I think he was looking for, and he hit the ball good,” said Hernandez, who left with a 13.50 ERA and the loss. “The wind was blowing to right field. I thought it was going foul, but it did not happen. It was a long drive. I throw a lot of pitches, and I’ll be in a lot of situations in every game. It’s one game. You’re not going to win every game in a season.”

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