- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2005

Washington Nationals right-hander Livan Hernandez had his right knee drained yesterday and is expected to make his next scheduled start Thursday in the finale of a four-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers at RFK Stadium.

An MRI yesterday confirmed inflammation and fluid buildup in the knee.

Losing Hernandez (6-2, 3.90 ERA) for a significant amount of time would have been a devastating blow to the Nationals. He leads the National League in innings pitched (621/3) and games started (nine) and ranks second in victories. His five-game winning streak is second best only to Florida’s Dontrelle Willis, who is 7-0.

The Nationals’ workhorse said he injured the knee May 9 in the club’s 4-3 victory at the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Hernandez exited Saturday night’s rain-delayed game against the Chicago Cubs at RFK with one out in the seventh inning.

Robinson said either Zach Day (1-2, 5.90 ERA) or Tomo Ohka (2-3, 4.80) would start if Hernandez can’t. Both former starters have been relegated to the bullpen.

Robinson wants to avoid aggravating Hernandez’s knee and having it become a long-term problem.

“It’s what may happen with him continuing to pitch on it,” Robinson said. “We don’t understand what we’re dealing with and what we’re not dealing with.”

Ohka’s role

Ohka has not pitched for the Nationals since a May 6 start at the San Francisco Giants, and he might see the mound again only by coming out of the bullpen.

And for Okha, in his fourth full major league season, that’s the great unknown. His only significant work in relief came in his first season in the majors in 1999, when just two of his eight appearances were starts with the Boston Red Sox.

“I really don’t know if he can [be effective out of the bullpen] or not,” Robinson said. “This is what he’s going to have to do now because there is no other alternative right now. What I’m looking for is a spot to put him in. I’m certainly not going to put him in the seventh or eighth inning.”

Ohka lost his spot in the rotation because of inconsistency. He allowed no runs and two hits in six innings against the New York Mets on April 30, then followed that by allowing three runs and four hits in four innings against the Giants.

Ohka has just one career relief appearance with the franchise, when he worked one inning and allowed a run on two hits and two walks for the Montreal Expos against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 26, 2002.

Ohka doesn’t consider himself a reliever, and neither does Robinson.

“Well, he’s not. He’s in the bullpen,” Robinson said. “I don’t look at him as a reliever. The only way he’s going to get into a ballgame now is by coming in from the bullpen.”

Eischen’s timetable

Reliever Joey Eischen was in the clubhouse wearing a protective sleeve after having the plaster cast removed from his broken right arm yesterday.

Eischen, who was the only left-hander on the Nationals’ pitching staff, broke his forearm while fielding a chopper on May 1. The Nationals placed Eischen on the 60-day disabled list two days later.

Eischen, who had screws and a plate put in his forearm, said he should be able to start playing catch in about two weeks. Eischen said he already spent a week at the club’s Viera, Fla., spring training facility doing rehab.

“What I hear, when the team goes on the road [Friday], I’ll go to Florida, and hopefully … I’ll be here at the beginning of the next homestand, and I should be able to start catching the ball by myself,” he said. “I’m going to start throwing the next day or two. I’ll be able to do a lot more now that I’m out of the hard cast. Sixty days is 60 days. I’ll be ready before that, but I’ll be pitching on June 28.”

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