- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — Livan Hernandez doesn’t understand why people are asking about his surgically repaired right knee. And from watching him yesterday, they shouldn’t be.

The Washington Nationals ace pitched five scoreless innings in a split-squad game yesterday — and even covered first base on a ball hit into the hole at second in the fourth inning.

There was no limp in sight.

“People are starting to ask if my knee is OK,” Hernandez said. “I haven’t told anybody that my knee is bad. I don’t know who’s saying that. The knee feels better every day. I’m starting slow and running perfect.”

Hernandez’s outing was nearly perfect, too. The right-hander threw five shutout innings, allowing four hits and walking none on 70 pitches. He had four strikeouts in the Nationals’ 2-1 loss.

In his next outing, Hernandez hopes to throw 85 pitches. For any other pitcher, that might seem a little excessive with 19 days left before Opening Day. But Hernandez has led the majors in innings pitched the last two seasons.

“My curveball was working perfect, the same with my changeup and slider,” said Hernandez, who will be the Nationals’ Opening Day starter April 3 against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. “My location I thought was perfect, too.”

Guzman update

Shortstop Cristian Guzman will fly to Cincinnati within the next 48 hours to have his injured right shoulder evaluated by Nationals medical consultant Tim Kremchek.

Guzman, who has missed the last five games with bursitis and inflammation in his shoulder, was re-evaluated yesterday by team physician Bruce Thomas in Viera and received a second cortisone injection to address residual swelling.

The club previously had said Guzman would be out five to seven days. Depending on Kremchek’s diagnosis, though, it would appear he’s likely to be out longer.

Veteran Royce Clayton started again at shortstop in Guzman’s place yesterday. He went 1-for-4, raising his spring average to .194.

Three’s a crowd

The stakes were just raised in the competition to become the Nationals’ starting center fielder. Brandon Watson, Marlon Byrd and Ryan Church are competing for the position, but manager Frank Robinson threw in another twist yesterday when he said it would be unlikely the Nationals would carry all three on their Opening Day 25-man roster.

“I don’t see how we can carry all three of them on the ballclub,” he said. “I’m thinking those three guys couldn’t be on the ballclub if we leave here with everybody OK.”

Guillen in action soon

Nationals star slugger Jose Guillen said he may play in a game as early as Sunday. Guillen, who led the Nationals in virtually every offensive category last season, doesn’t think he’s rushing himself to get back out on the field.

“By Sunday, you’ll probably see me playing in games,” Guillen said. “If I think I’m rushing it, then I should have been playing a few weeks ago, I think. The wrist is good. Jose Guillen is good. My mind is good. Mentally and physically I’m good. I’m not rushing anything. I only need 10 days in spring training to get ready and play.”

Extra bases

The Nationals trimmed three players off their spring training roster when they reassigned Mike Vento and Alex Escobar to minor league camp and optioned third baseman/outfielder Tony Blanco to Class A Potomac of the Carolina League. …

The Nationals promoted Joe Hickey to vice president of corporate alliances. Hickey was the Nationals’ director of corporate sales. …

Injured utilityman Robert Fick said he’s going to begin hitting Monday. Fick underwent elbow surgery last Monday to remove bone chips in his elbow. He says he has his range of motion back but that his elbow is still sore from surgery.

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

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