- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Stan Kasten tried to crystallize the motivation for trading Livan Hernandez, the only starting pitcher on whom the Washington Nationals can rely, to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“What is critical for us now is to get our foundation built such that we can really have the best jumping-off point when that day gets here, which I hope is Opening Day 2008,” the Nationals’ president said. “We can’t have a jumping-off point until our foundation is solid.”

The top row in the 500 section at RFK Stadium should provide a solid enough foundation for jumping off for fans who must endure the agony of watching someone in a Nationals uniform take the mound the rest of the season.

Ramon Ortiz. Tony Armas Jr. Pedro Astacio. After that, it is a very small cast of pitchers who even know how to get dressed in a major league clubhouse.

“The one advantage in a situation like we are in is that you get to find out what pitchers are going to be able to help you in the future and what pitchers are not,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “People get opportunities. … Sometimes when you have trades or injuries, it is an advantage because you get to see other people and make decisions on them.”

So the rest of the season will sort of be like “America’s Got Talent,” only with Bowden serving as Regis Philbin. And, hey, at least now, with the MASN-Comcast dispute settled, everybody will be able to watch it on television.

It won’t be pretty. It will be painful. But it is what it is: trying to rebuild a franchise gutted by years of financial problems in Montreal and by five years of ownership by Major League Baseball.

Bowden appears on the right track with this deal that brings two well-regarded pitching prospects from the Diamondbacks to the Nats.

The best guarantee of the chances for major league success for the two 23-year-olds, right-hander Garrett Mock and left-hander Matt Chico, is that nobody knows them better than the new Nationals assistant general manager and vice president of baseball operations, Mike Rizzo.

He drafted Mock and Chico while working as director of scouting for the Diamondbacks, which increases the odds of these two young pitchers developing into major leaguers. This deal is unique in the sense that the team getting the prospects knows them as well as the team dealing them away.

“Obviously, having Mike Rizzo with our organization was an advantage in this transaction because nobody knows their farm system better than Mike, being over there for seven years, the last five years as scouting director,” Bowden said.

Mock and Chico were leading Arizona’s minor league system in strikeouts while pitching in Class AA. They will stay at that level for now with the Harrisburg Senators. Mock was 4-8 with a 4.95 ERA in 23 starts, while Chico was 7-2 with a 2.22 ERA in 13 starts.

Bowden tossed out names like Roger Clemens, Kevin Millwood and Mike Hampton in describing Mock and Chico, or “Chico and the Mock,” if you will.

“Mike Rizzo compared [Mock’s] body type to Roger Clemens,” he said. “Mike Rizzo saw him throw 90, 95, with a sinker, curveball, slider and change-up. He’s an innings-eater, a pitcher capable of throwing a lot of innings.

“[Scouting director] Dana Brown compared him with Kevin Millwood, that type of starter in the big leagues, maybe a number two starter,” Bowden said. “He’s thrown 92, 94 and up to 96 with a tremendous power slider, an average curveball and an above-average change-up.

“Mike Rizzo compares [Chico] a little bit to Mike Hampton, a similar body build. His fastball is 88 to 92, and he has a nasty cutter and a very good change-up. He is very athletic. He is a very durable left-hander, a competitor, hard-nosed demeanor on the mound, a winner, good stuff, good attitude.”

Know what? If one of them can prove to be a Livan Hernandez — even with the Mickey Lolich body type — it will be a good deal.

Livo has been an entertaining, throwback-style pitcher ever since he burst on the scene from Cuba and led the Florida Marlins to the 1997 World Series championship, winning two games and being named the Series most valuable player.

He has won 119 games since, including 50 for the Nationals. He has been a brilliant pitcher, so much so that Barry Bonds said last year he would love to have Hernandez, a former Giants teammate, back on his team.

Hernandez has given fans their money’s worth, never bowing out of games, leading all of baseball in complete games pitched since 2000 and in innings pitched in three straight seasons. And he has done so with flair.

So here’s what Nationals fans can do to pay tribute to Livo: Take this ridiculous DHL “Hometown Heroes” promotion — it has little to do with Washington baseball history, anyway — and use the debacle for something good.

Livan Hernandez, hometown hero.

He already was on the ballot, one of three Nationals, along with Jose Vidro and Brian Schneider, and two former Expos, Gary Carter and Rusty Staub.

What would be more fun than to both give Livo a proper sendoff and protest the farce that “Hometown Heroes” represents for Washington baseball fans by voting for an Arizona Diamondback?

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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