- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2005

Livan Hernandez seems to be just what the doctor ordered whenever the Washington Nationals have struggled this season. Today the Nationals’ ace will be examined by one.

Hernandez left last night’s game in the seventh inning against the Chicago Cubs with right knee inflammation and will be re-evaluated this morning.

The Nationals can only hope Hernandez’s knee is nothing serious. The crafty Cuban right-hander was instrumental in snapping the Nationals’ three-game losing streak. He allowed two runs in 61/3 innings and struck out six to lead the Nationals to a rain-delayed 4-3 victory over the Cubs before 42,829 last night at RFK Stadium.

This game was delayed 2:40 when a series of violent storms rolled over RFK. This game started at 9:45 p.m., and some of the second-largest crowd to see a Nationals home game had left, but a hearty majority stayed through the deluges.

Hernandez (6-2) has won five straight starts for the first time since April 2-19, 2002. Since Opening Day, when the Philadelphia Phillies roughed up Hernandez for seven runs in just 42/3 innings, he has gone 6-1 in eight starts.

The National League’s top workhorse — he entered leading it in innings pitched with 56 — didn’t go his normal seven to nine innings but was effective while his knee lasted. Hernandez’s wicked curveball and his assortment of other off-speed pitches devastated the Cubs’ batting order. Hernandez struck out three of his first six batters.

Hernandez left the game with one out and a 1-1 count on Cubs catcher Henry Blanco. Hernandez walked off the mound slightly favoring his right leg.

Closer Chad Cordero picked up his eighth save of the season.

It took the Nationals three innings to figure out Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano (3-2). Zambrano, who was a NL All-Star last season while going 16-8 and posting a 2.75 ERA in just his second full major league season, opened this game with his best stuff. Zambrano retired the first nine batters, three on strikeouts.

The tall right-hander and his pitching magic abruptly disappeared in the fourth inning as the Nationals (19-17) rocked Zambrano for four runs in for a 4-1 lead. The Nationals pounded him for four hits. Zambrano further disintegrated in the inning by hitting Nick Johnson and catcher Brian Schneider with pitches.

Without any advanced warning, Zambrano pulled himself from the game in the fourth inning with one out and a 1-2 count on Hernandez. Zambrano was diagnosed with lateral forearm tightness in his right arm and is listed day-to-day.

Nationals center fielder Brad Wilkerson started Zambrano’s undoing by leading off the fourth with an opposite-field double to left. Jamey Carroll advanced Wilkerson to third with a perfectly placed bunt down the third-base line and reached first on a fielder’s choice when Zambrano threw to third.

With one out, Zambrano beaned Johnson on the right elbow to load the bases. Vinny Castilla, who was batting in the No.5 slot after batting cleanup Friday night, stroked a single to the gap in left that scored Wilkerson and Carroll to give the Nationals a 2-1 lead.

Castilla reclaimed the club’s RBI lead with his single and has now driven in 22 runs.

Rookie Ryan Church kept the Nationals’ hit parade alive when he laced an opposite-field single to left that scored Johnson and made it 3-1. After Zambrano hit Schneider, shortstop Cristian Guzman, a .220 hitter, drove in Church with a bouncer up the middle.

This game started as if it was going to be a pitcher’s duel. Hernandez sat down the first eight Cubs before Zambrano surprised him with a slicing double two-out into the left-field corner. Corey Patterson, the Cubs leadoff batter, drove in Zambrano with a ground-rule double to left field in the third.

Trailing 4-1, Chicago (16-19) added another run in the fifth . Cubs left fielder Jason DuBois doubled to straight-away center to lead off, and Jerry Hairston pushed DuBois to third with a single to right. Pinch hitter Jose Macias collected his first RBI of the season when he singled to right to score DuBois.

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