- 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.

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 looking ahead. 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 22, 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.

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

Not the kind of outing that leaves the Nationals clamoring to bring the 34-year-old back next spring for another go at it.

This performance was not representative of Hernandez’s time with Washington. He had earned quality starts in four of his five outings to date, and in just about every case pounded the strike zone with authority.

He never found that groove Tuesday, putting the first two men he faced on base, then requiring 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 top open the inning, then 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 a total of 22 Los Angeles batters. He retired only 10 of them.

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