- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2005

Washington Nationals ace Livan Hernandez said his inflamed right knee was feeling better yesterday, but he still will undergo an MRI and be re-evaluated today after a buildup of fluid was discovered.

Hernandez (6-2, 3.90 ERA) left Saturday night’s rain-delayed, 5-hour marathon against the Chicago Cubs at RFK Stadium with one out in the seventh inning. The Nationals medical staff examined the right-hander yesterday and decided an MRI was necessary.

Hernandez said it’s too early to tell whether he will take the mound Thursday night against the Milwaukee Brewers at RFK.

“It’s day-to-day, and we’ll see in the next two days what will happen,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said he initially injured his knee during last Monday’s 4-3 victory in Arizona and that the pain is emanating from the outside of the knee.

Hernandez, who leads the National League in games started (nine) and innings pitched (621/3) and ranks second in victories, will receive treatment over the next few days.

Nationals manager Frank Robinson is taking a positive approach.

“He may not even have to miss a start,” Robinson said. “You’re so used to the guy taking the ball. My feeling right now is that he won’t miss a turn. Sometimes you have to protect a guy like him from himself, too. We feel that if there is any chance of him further damaging his knee or whatever, we won’t let him go out there.”

More mound problems

RFK Stadium’s pitcher’s mound was rebuilt while the club was on a nine-game, 11-day western road trip.

However, both of yesterday’s starting pitchers — Chicago’s Greg Maddux and Washington’s John Patterson — summoned the grounds crew midway through the game to fix the landing area. Afterward, Maddux downplayed the situation, while Patterson was critical.

“I don’t want to use excuses on [my performance], but they’ve got to do something with the mound,” said Patterson, who allowed four runs on seven hits and walked four in 52/3 innings in a no-decision. “The mound is in bad shape. I battled it all day, and Maddux battled it all day. It just gets loose and slides everywhere. I slid on 90 percent of my pitches today.”

In the fifth, Maddux called for rakes and tampers. Patterson stopped play in the sixth. Robinson and Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire came out of the dugout to inspect the mound. Robinson said the landing area was dug down to its clay base, which created a slippery surface.

Robinson said RFK’s mound, which is lowered by a hydraulic lift each time the field is converted for soccer, probably will be an on-going problem this season.

“This is the first time in a while there has been a complaint about it,” Robinson said. “So, yeah, it’s probably going to be an on-going thing. This is the first year here, and it’s like trial and error. We’re going to have some problems with it probably all year long.”

Extra bases

The Nationals have no left-handers on their roster, but at least right-handed reliever Gary Majewski continues to be effective against left-handed hitters, who are 2-for-22 (.091) against him this season.

Majewski, 25, attributes his success to improving his changeup in winter ball in Puerto Rico.

“When I go inside on a lefty, the ball curls back over the plate,” Majewski said. “I’ve gotten to the point — last year and this year — of pounding leftys inside, which I throw a lot of sinkers, and my changeup is a lot better, and I can throw that early in the count.” …

Vinny Castilla, who had stolen just one base in two attempts over the past two seasons, is now tied with Brad Wilkerson for the team lead. The 37-year-old third baseman swiped his third base of the season in the fourth inning. …

Nationals right fielder Jose Guillen made a highlight-reel catch against the wall in the seventh inning, robbing Chicago’s Derek Lee of extra bases.

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