- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

NEW YORK | Livan Hernandez has started 388 more games, earned 151 more wins and pitched his way out of a bunch more jams than Craig Stammen has at the major league level.

If Stammen can produce even half the career Hernandez has fashioned over the last 13 years, the young Washington Nationals right-hander will have made a good living.

Right now, though, the bright-eyed rookie can’t match up with the sage old veteran, as Hernandez proved he’s still got it Tuesday night during a 6-1 victory over his former mates.

With nine innings of one-run ball, Hernandez gave the New York Mets a much-needed gem while besting Stammen, who was a bit ragged during his second career outing and in the process suffered his first career loss.

In a performance that looked all too familiar to Nationals fans who rooted for Hernandez as their staff ace in 2005 and 2006, the big right-hander put himself into trouble just about every inning yet emerged unscathed almost every time.

And with his team comfortably ahead and his starter cruising, Mets manager Jerry Manuel let Hernandez hit for himself in the bottom of the eighth — drawing a big roar from the Citi Field crowd of 39,376 — and then retake the mound in search of his 46th career complete game.

Contrast that with Stammen, who lasted only five innings and couldn’t escape the couple of jams he got into, and the end result (Washington’s 14th loss in 17 games) might as well have been a foregone conclusion.

There were a couple of late fireworks, with reliever Jason Bergmann surrendering a three-run homer to Gary Sheffield in the seventh — no chance of fan interference this time — and then throwing his next pitch over Fernando Tatis’ head.

Plate umpire Dan Iassogna immediately warned Bergmann (who appeared simply to have lost control of a breaking ball) and both benches, a decision that left Washington manager Manny Acta flabbergasted.

Bergmann wound up hitting Tatis and Hernandez later plunked Justin Maxwell, yet no one was ejected.

Stammen didn’t plunk anyone, but he didn’t have particularly sharp command either.

The 25-year-old reached the majors and enjoyed a successful debut last week because he pounded the strike zone with fastballs and then worked ahead of hitters. But he wasn’t nearly as precise Tuesday night, falling behind in the count and getting into trouble against the bottom portion of New York’s lineup.

The Mets scored their first run on back-to-back doubles by unheralded Nos. 7 and 8 hitters Omir Santos and Ramon Martinez. Their next two runs were driven in by Tatis (a journeyman) and Fernando Martinez (the organization’s top prospect who was promoted from Class AAA earlier in the day).

All told, Stammen (0-1) allowed three runs while putting 10 men on base (seven hits, two walks, one hit batter). Last week, it took him only 68 pitches to get through six innings. Tuesday night, he was pulled after only five innings with his pitch count at 95.

Before the game, Acta talked about the overall evaluation process with a young pitcher like Stammen. Rather than try to draw conclusions start from start, Acta prefers to watch a guy for several weeks.

“We just want to see him over a period of time, to see how he responds, how he can make adjustments if the hitters adjust to him,” Acta said. “I believe that every start is important, especially the first five or six a guy gets in the big leagues.”

Stammen was handed his first loss Tuesday, though he wasn’t entirely to blame. His teammates certainly could have given him a little more offensive support.

As it was, they managed only one run off Hernandez, that one coming on Adam Dunn’s solo homer in the seventh inning. The opposite-field blast was Dunn’s 15th of the season, tops on the 2009 Nationals.

Of course, that also would have been tops on the 2008 Nationals, who didn’t have anyone hit more than 14 home runs during a 102-loss season.

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