- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 27, 2009

CHICAGO | The young members of the Washington Nationals’ rotation getting their first taste of the majors have known all along they would be on a strict innings count that would come into play as the season drew closer to an end. That moment has finally arrived, and it has forced the Nationals to make some necessary adjustments.

The first move came late Tuesday night when Washington announced it had signed veteran Livan Hernandez and was immediately throwing the right-hander into the rotation. Hernandez, who started Wednesday night against the Chicago Cubs, will pitch every fifth day the rest of the season.

Joining him will be John Lannan (who is in his second full season) and Garrett Mock (who began the year as a reliever and has plenty of innings left in his arm). The final two rotation spots, though, could become something of a revolving door, with several young hurlers splitting the outings.

“We’re going to mix and match,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We’re going to evaluate the pitchers any way we can.”

Rizzo said he’s come up with an innings limit for Craig Stammen, J.D. Martin, Collin Balester, Ross Detwiler and Shairon Martis. The number varies based on the pitcher’s experience, the time he has logged in the majors and/or minors this season and the number of “stressful innings” he has endured.

“And when they reach the number, they’ll stop pitching,” Rizzo said.

Dukes driving them in

Elijah Dukes recorded a career-high five RBI during Tuesday night’s 15-6 thumping of the Cubs, the latest evidence of what the young outfielder can do when he puts the ball in play.

Despite a .221 average in 19 games since his promotion from Class AAA Syracuse, Dukes has 21 RBI. He hasn’t always been productive. But when he has, he has been really productive.

“Elijah is a work in progress,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “Recognizing the breaking ball is key. He got one up in the zone and hit it well [Tuesday night for a grand slam]. When he can start laying off the ones low and away that are not strikes, he is going to be a force in the league.”

Dukes, who typically bats sixth or seventh in Washington’s lineup, also has benefited from the presence of Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham in front of him.

“You’ve got me down in the 7-hole, and it just comes so quick,” Dukes said. “You’ve got guys up there that get just hit after hit after hit, and then I’m up there. Hit after hit after hit and then I’m up there. All day. It feels good. I love to see these guys getting on base.”

Morgan OK

Though Nyjer Morgan wasn’t in the lineup Wednesday for the second straight game, the Nationals center fielder was fine to play after battling flu-like symptoms.

“A lot better,” he said. “I’m back to myself.”

Riggleman chose to keep Morgan out of the lineup one more day, though. With a day game looming Thursday, the interim manager knew his leadoff man wouldn’t be up to the quick turnaround.

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