- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO - He was available to anyone willing to take him - and his contract -on. The Washington Nationals made no secret about their attempts to shop Livan Hernandez around heading into Monday’s trade deadline.

But when no other club came calling, perhaps scared off by Hernandez’s wildly inconsistent season or perhaps by the $7 million he’s still owed in 2007, the portly right-hander got his wish and remained with the Nationals.

And with perhaps his best seven innings of baseball all season, Hernandez pitched Washington to a 4-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants last night, probably leaving general managers throughout the sport wondering whether they should have taken a flier on him.

There’s still a chance Hernandez (9-8) could be dealt this month if he clears waivers first. Then again, the way he’s pitched for the last month, the Nationals might want to consider keeping him for a while longer.

Over his last seven starts, Hernandez is now 4-0. His ERA is a hefty 5.09, but throw out a 1-1/3-inning, seven-run outing July 6 and that number plummets to 3.69.

It may not be Cy Young Award material, but it’s a marked improvement for a guy some thought might be finished earlier this year.

He was anything but last night, allowing one run and six hits over seven innings in ensuring a series victory for Washington, which now will be going for the sweep at AT&T; Park this afternoon.

The Nationals usually can tell what kind of night it’s going to be for Hernandez within the game’s first two innings. If the velocity on his fastball is up, he’s able to keep opposing hitters off-balance and generally has success.

If, however, the big right-hander runs into early trouble, it’s usually a sign of a long night ahead. So the Nationals had to be slightly worried when Hernandez served up a double and a single to open the game. But he deftly worked his way out of the jam, snaring a comebacker and trapping Randy Winn between third and home, then coaxing an inning-ending double play from cleanup man Moises Alou.

Little did he or the Nationals know it at the time, but Hernandez was on his way to a standout evening on the mound. He scattered six hits and two walks over his seven innings, allowing only one run to score on a sixth-inning opposite-field single, a stolen base and a two-out single on a tough pitch down in the strike zone.

Hernandez followed that up with a nine-pitch seventh, retiring the side. And with his pitch count a paltry 93 at the time, the veteran hurler looked like he could go on all night.

Manager Frank Robinson, though, decided not to push it. With his team ahead 2-1 in the eighth and the No. 9 spot in the order leading off, he sent up pinch-hitter Daryle Ward and congratulated Hernandez on another fine performance (his sixth quality start in seven outings).

The move worked out. Ward led off the eighth with a double, Felipe Lopez drew a one-out walk and Ryan Zimmerman drove both in to turn a one-run lead into a three-run cushion.

Micah Bowie and Jon Rauch then made it through the eighth unscathed, and Chad Cordero pitched the ninth for his 19th save.

Hernandez’s teammates have been supplying him with nice run support for more than a month now - an average of seven runs in each of his last six starts. Though they didn’t reach that total last night, they did produce enough offense to give him a lead.

The surprise spark plug was catcher Brian Schneider, who returned from a lower back strain and a bruised right wrist to single in each of his first two at-bats. His leadoff single in the third paved the way for Washington to manufacture a run - he was awarded second base when pitcher Matt Cain balked, took third on Hernandez’s groundout to the right side and scored on Alfonso Soriano’s sacrifice fly to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead.

It took some manufacturing to score the second run, too. Lopez drew a leadoff walk in the sixth, and Zimmerman singled him to third. Nick Johnson tapped into a double play, killing the possibility of a big rally but driving in a run nonetheless.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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