- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 4, 2010

WASHINGTON | Livan Hernandez needed 41 pitches to get through the first inning. Ryan Zimmerman went 0 for 4. The right fielder and shortstop committed ugly errors.

But these are the 2010 Washington Nationals, who are actually in the neighborhood of first place in the NL East. Hernandez persevered to keep his ERA under 1.00. Every starting position player except Zimmerman got a hit. The right fielder made up for his error with a diving catch that saved a run, and the shortstop atoned for his miscue by hitting a home run.

Hernandez allowed two runs — one earned — while throwing a season-high 123 pitches over a season-low 5 1-3 innings Tuesday night as the Nationals moved back to two games above .500 (14-12) with a 6-3 win over the Atlanta Braves.

“It’s goes back to finding ways to win,” said Josh Willingham, who hit one of three solo homers for the Nationals. “Last year, it seemed like sometimes we found ways to lose.”

Hernandez (4-1), the 35-year-old right-hander with the rubber arm, walked five and watched his ERA scoot from 0.87 all the way to 0.99 because of a solo home run by rookie Jason Heyward in the fourth. Not bad considering that the first inning seemed to take half the night.

“That inning defines Livan Hernandez, basically,” said Ian Desmond, who had the error-and-homer night for Washington. “He was in trouble, he stayed calm, he kept on making his pitches and worked his way out of it. That’s what he does every time.”

Adam Dunn added a solo homer as the Nationals snapped Atlanta’s three-game winning streak and handed the Braves their eighth straight road loss, the franchise’s longest road skid since 1996. Heyward remains hot, but the rest of the lineup could only marvel at Hernandez.

“He threw 150 pitches and he didn’t even break a sweat,” Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones said. “I’ll say this about Livan, the repertoire might not blow your mind, but that guy knows how to pitch. He changes speeds on every single pitch that he has.”

Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami (0-5), seeking his first win since Aug. 31, allowed three runs and seven hits over five innings. He was bothered by a blister on his right foot, but he said that wasn’t the problem.

“It’s the way I’m pitching,” Kawakami said through an interpreter, “and I’m not pitching right now, getting into a good rhythm — that’s pathetic right now.”

Heyward remains the Braves’ standout star in the young season. He hit his eighth homer on the day he was chosen the NL’s rookie of the month, then did something that really shows he’s becoming hot stuff: He drew his first career intentional walk in the fifth.

Atlanta’s other run off Hernandez came in the first, when Roger Bernadina dropped a sinking liner in right field for an error that helped lead to Troy Glaus’ sacrifice fly. Two innings later, Bernadina made a diving two-out catch of a ball in the gap with a runner on second.

Tyler Clippard lowered his ERA to 0.46 with 1 2-3 scoreless innings for the Nationals before the Braves got a run in the ninth off Miguel Batista.

Matt Capps, entering with one out and a runner on first, then ended the game by getting Glaus to hit into a double play. It was Capps’ majors-leading 11th save in 11 tries, dropping his ERA to 0.63.

“This team,” Dunn said, “is definitely on the up.”

Notes: Hernandez had lasted at least seven innings in each of his four previous starts this season. … Desmond’s throwing error in the fifth ended his streak of 18 games without a miscue. … The Nationals promoted No. 1 overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg to Triple-A Syracuse. He went 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA in five starts with Double-A Harrisburg. … Washington LHP John Lannan will skip his next start to rest his throwing arm, which has some swelling that has affected his sinker and change-up. … The Braves placed SS Yunel Escobar on the 15-day DL and purchased the contract of INF Brandon Hicks from Triple-A Gwinnett. Escobar has a strain on the inside of his left thigh. … Atlanta manager Bobby Cox spent the morning on Capitol Hill, where he received framed copies of statements placed into the Congressional Record by a pair of senators honoring his career. … The huge Nationals Park scoreboard — the team’s pride and joy — went blank in the bottom of the sixth. It was off and on the rest of the evening, so the public address announcer called out balls and strikes for the fans in attendance who don’t actually watch the game. … Dunn, whose homer was only his fifth of the season, on his slow start: “I’ve been feeling good all year and haven’t done jack,” he said, “so I’m hoping to come in one day and feel terrible.”

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