- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — Ramon Ortiz’s statistics weren’t as impressive as in his last outing — the competition had something to say about that — but he was good enough to win last night.

A little better defense by the Washington Nationals would have helped Ortiz’s line as well. Ortiz allowed three runs on eight hits in 52/3 innings against a powerful Cleveland Indians lineup.

The third run the Indians scored off Ortiz came on a mistake. Indians catcher Victor Martinez led off the fourth inning with a fly ball to left. Newly converted left fielder Alfonso Soriano got a late jump and then slowed when he approached the line. The ball dropped just inside fair territory and bounced into the left-field stands for a ground-rule double. Martinez later scored on a Ronnie Belliard groundout to second baseman Jose Vidro.

Earlier, Martinez led off the second with a homer to right for the Indians’ first hit.

“The only bad pitch I threw today was the home run to Victor Martinez. I tried to throw a sinker down and away, but it was a fastball that came to the middle of the plate,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz made his team-high sixth start of the spring. On Thursday against Baltimore, Ortiz shut out the Orioles, allowing five hits over six innings.

“This game tonight I think I pitched better than when I threw six innings with no runs,” Ortiz said. “I threw a lot of good pitches: fastball down and away, good sinker for the right-handed hitters, good slider, good changeup. It’s like I told you. Every time I go out my pitches are better.”

Over his last three starts (152/3 innings), Ortiz has allowed just five runs. Ortiz is determined to have a better season than last year, when he went 9-11 with a 5.36 ERA with the Cincinnati Reds.

“I don’t like to talk about this year and how I’m feeling,” Ortiz said. “The only thing I’m thinking is positive.”

Livan’s knee

Staff ace Livan Hernandez played in pain most of last season. Three days after the Nationals’ season finale Oct. 5, Hernandez had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

So far this spring, Hernandez’s knee hasn’t shown any ill effects, but manager Frank Robinson doesn’t believe Hernandez’s knee will be completely healthy any time soon.

“No, he’s not 100 percent, and he won’t be 100 percent for a while, but he’s a lot better off than he was in the second half of the season,” Robinson said. “He’ll continue to get better and better unless he somehow injures that knee again or something.”

Hernandez, 31, said he feels no pain in his knee, but his knee is not as strong as he would like it.

“This year has been difficult because I had to do a lot of stuff for the knee and no running outside,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t get a chance to do a lot in the offseason.”

Hernandez is baseball’s top workhorse. For the second consecutive season, Hernandez led the majors in innings pitched with 2461/3. Last season was the seventh time in eight years Hernandez topped the 200-inning mark as he went 15-10 with a 3.98 ERA.

Gotham’s finest?

The New York Mets, whom the Nationals visit Monday on Opening Day, made the most noise in the division during the offseason, adding marquee players en masse.

Carlos Delgado, Julio Franco, Paul Lo Duca, Xavier Nady and left-handed closer Billy Wagner are just some of the big names the Mets added to a roster that already included Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Cliff Floyd, and Carlos Beltran.

But Robinson said it’s way too premature to just hand the Mets the division or give a reliable forecast on the Nationals.

“The game is won on the field, the games are won on the field and that’s as simple as I can say it,” Robinson said. “Will we catch people by surprise? I don’t know. If [the Mets] take us lightly I think they’ll be surprised. We’ll just go out and play hard and give it our best shot each day. We’ll win our share of games, and if things break right, we might surprise somebody.”

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