- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

PHOENIX — Livan Hernandez and Tony Armas Jr. were teammates for 3-1/2 seasons, the two main building blocks as the Washington Nationals put together their starting rotation for the future.

Or so they thought.

When the Nationals open their third season in the District next spring, neither right-hander figures to be in uniform. Hernandez was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks a month ago and remains under contract through 2007. Armas, of course, still pitches for the Nationals, but there’s little reason to believe the club will want him back next year.

That much was painfully obvious yesterday, when Armas again slogged his way through a rough start while Hernandez dominated his old mates in a 4-2 Diamondbacks victory at Chase Field.

Eleven days after his emotional return to RFK Stadium, Hernandez again faced his former club. This time, he finished what he started, quashing an eighth-inning rally to give Arizona its first win over Washington in six tries this season.

“I’ve got a lot of friends on [the Nationals],” Hernandez said. “But baseball is baseball.”

It was a vintage performance by the veteran, who barely broke a sweat in allowing two runs on six hits without walking a man over his eight innings. The only early hiccup on his pitching line came when he surrendered back-to-back singles to Alfonso Soriano and Felipe Lopez to open the game.

But Soriano, still a stolen base shy of the 40-40 club, took off for third too soon and was picked off by Hernandez, who then got Ryan Zimmerman to foul out and Nick Johnson to look at a fastball for strike three to get out of the inning.

Soriano was thrown out trying to notch stolen base No. 40 three times in the series, and manager Frank Robinson said he believes the slugger is “trying to force the issue a little too quick.”

“It’s a little hard because everybody expects me to do it,” said Soriano, who now will try to make history back at RFK. “The only good thing is I have 16 games left.”

After squandering their first-inning opportunity, the Nationals didn’t threaten again until late in the game. Hernandez retired 21 of 22 batters at one point, with the only blemish a single by Brian Schneider. Schneider added another hit to end that stretch.

“He knew everything I throw,” Hernandez said of his former batterymate.

The second of Schneider’s base hits, with one out in the eighth, ignited Washington’s only scoring rally of the game. Nook Logan followed with a well-placed drag bunt, and pinch-hitter Robert Fick drove both runners in with a double to the left-center gap. But Hernandez (12-12) got Soriano to hit a long fly ball to the warning track in left and retired Lopez to end the inning and depart to a round of applause from the crowd of 19,031.

“He knows how to pitch,” Soriano said. “He’s a very smart pitcher on the mound.”

Jose Valverde pitched the ninth to earn his 16th save and prevent Washington from finishing 6-0 against Arizona this year.

Hernandez’s tenure with the Nationals was marked by his ability to get out of jams and pitch his team deep into ballgames. His counterpart yesterday, Armas, has been best known for failing to make it through the fifth inning on a regular basis.

Armas lasted just 31/3 innings while matching his career high with four homers surrendered.

Conor Jackson got him in the second inning, Orlando Hudson in the third and Stephen Drew and Chris Snyder in the fourth. Even more troubling was Armas’ inability to shake off those homers. He loaded the bases on two walks and a double following the Jackson shot, and he responded to Snyder’s blast by surrendering a double to Hernandez and walking Chris Young.

That was all Robinson could take. The manager pulled Armas (8-11), who has won only once in his last 10 starts and has failed to make it out of the fourth inning in five of those appearances.

“You’d like to see a pitcher respond every time to adversity,” Robinson said. “That’s what makes you a good pitcher, and that’s what keeps your team in ballgames.”

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