- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2009

At his best, Livan Hernandez is baseball’s best innings-eater, an old-fashioned workhorse who battles his way out of jams, churns out seven-plus innings and gives his team a chance to win. And more often than not, the veteran right-hander performs up to his capabilities.

Hernandez, though, always has been susceptible to the occasional disaster of an outing. It happens four or five times a year, without warning and without remedy. So when it happened Tuesday night during the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 14-2 drubbing of the Washington Nationals, there was nothing the home team could do but stand idly by and take this beating with some semblance of dignity.

That’s not the easiest thing to do in the final weeks of a season that veered off the tracks long ago. This was the Nationals’ 99th loss in 150 games, placing them on the precipice of a most ignominious milestone. One more loss and this club will have cracked triple digits in consecutive seasons, a feat accomplished by only three other franchises in the past 30 years.

“A hundred losses, that gets up on you quick,” center fielder Willie Harris said. “No one here wants to lose 100 games. No one wants to lose 90 games. But you go out and you play, and unfortunately someone’s going to lose.”

Only a few weeks ago, it appeared Washington might manage to avoid the dreaded 100-loss mark and perhaps close out the season with renewed optimism. There will be no positive vibe, however, emanating from the clubhouse at the end of this grueling campaign - not at this rate.

The Nationals have lost 17 of their past 22 games, many of them in unsightly fashion. And there’s little reason to believe a last-gasp upswing is forthcoming, not if the opener of the season’s final homestand was any indication.

Washington’s pitching staff twice allowed the Dodgers to bat around. The home squad’s entire offensive output consisted of Adam Dunn’s two-run homer. And the majors’ shakiest defense committed three more errors, raising its season total to a whopping 130.

“It was not a good performance,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “It was not good baseball.”

Hernandez, who suffered through the worst of his six starts since rejoining the Nationals last month, set the tone early. The right-hander lasted 3 2/3 innings, allowed eight runs, eight hits and four walks and needed 84 pitches to reach that point.

Hernandez put the first two men he faced on base, then required some nifty plays by shortstop Cristian Guzman to bail him out.

No defense could save Hernandez during a seven-run fourth. He allowed three straight singles to open the inning and was victimized later by RBI hits by Rafael Furcal and Matt Kemp. By the time he was unceremoniously yanked in favor of reliever Marco Estrada, Hernandez had faced 22 Los Angeles batters. He retired only 10 of them.

“You pitch like that, with a lot of mistakes, there’s no chance of you pitching at this level,” Hernandez said. “You don’t make too many mistakes, you can get people out easy. Tonight I leave the ball up and I go behind the hitters, and that’s not the way you’ve got to pitch.”

It didn’t get any better when Riggleman turned to the soft underbelly of his bullpen. What was shaping up to be a run-of-the-mill, major league blowout instead devolved into the Nationals’ most lopsided loss of the year. The Dodgers batted around again in the seventh, scoring six more runs and putting seven consecutive men on base against Saul Rivera and Victor Garate.

At that point, with no one remaining in the building who believed the outcome was still in question, both managers decided to empty their benches and turn this into a glorified spring training game. Only six of the 18 players who started the game remained in the lineup to the bitter end.

The ratio of fans who stuck it out through the ninth was probably smaller.

“Today was just one of those games you won’t see on our highlight reel, that’s for sure,” Harris said. “It was just one of those games where things just didn’t go right. It’s pretty embarrassing.”

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