- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 7, 2011

DENVER — The pitch was a 64 mph curveball and it grazed Colorado Rockies’ pitcher Jhoulys Chacin ever so slightly across the front of his uniform. He pointed that fact out to home plate umpire Bill Miller before trotting to first base.

For Livan Hernandez Saturday night, it was the start of a bloodbath. As the Washington Nationals worked their way through a 15-7 blowout by the Rockies, what happened after Chacin was hit in the third inning would serve as the turning point.

Rockies center fielder Eric Young laid down a bunt on the next pitch. Hernandez fielded it but then froze — undecided as to which base to throw to for an out — before ultimately short-arming a throw to first baseman Michael Morse. He watched the throw sail wide of an outstretched Morse, and the floodgates were open.

“I never make errors like that,” Hernandez said. “It’s tough. I got a little frustrated because I never do that. This is what happens — they scored four runs in that inning.”

The Rockies scored four in that inning and five more in the one that followed. Hernandez would face 13 more batters after hitting Chacin and retire just five. In a 3 2/3-inning outing, Hernandez allowed nine runs (seven earned) off nine hits, walked none and struck out none.

The fourth inning opened with two solo home runs — after the Nationals had cut the Rockies’ lead to 4-2 — and neither Hernandez nor the Nationals would recover.

“It was just one of those days that you throw anything and people hit it,” Hernandez said. “You make a mistake in this park and you’re going to pay for it. … It’s difficult to control the ball here. I tried to pitch a good game.”

Nothing about Hernandez’s explanation was incorrect. The home run Ty Wigginton hit to lead off the fourth was on a sinker that broke in to the right-handed hitter, instead of out. Hernandez’s breaking pitches did not have their usual bite. They broke the wrong way or not at all. The home run that Chris Iannetta hit in the third was on a 62 mph curve that was intended to be outside. It ran in. It all culminated in Hernandez’s shortest outing of the year.

The Nationals gave up a season-high 15 runs and fell to 7-17 in games that the veteran right-hander has started this season. Since Nationals manager Davey Johnson took over, Hernandez is 1-4 with a 6.93 ERA. The Nationals are 1-6 in those games.

“I’m concerned any time anybody has a problem,” Johnson said when asked about Hernandez’s inconsistencies. “Livo, overall, has pitched a lot of good games for us. Unfortunately when he’s a little off, he’s really off.”

But the Nationals are keeping their eye on the future. They’ve all but announced that young pitchers like Brad Peacock and Tom Milone would get an opportunity this year. And each ineffective start for Hernandez provides more ammunition for the Nationals to offer up those starts to someone else.

“We’re not at that point yet,” Johnson said. “But that’s definitely what we’re going to look at pretty soon, when they’re ready.”

Ultimately, on a night the offense scored seven runs off 14 hits, including five for extra bases, Hernandez’s issues precluded them from truly making it close. Their fate was sealed when the bullpen melted down in the seventh and eighth innings, as Todd Coffey and Henry Rodriguez combined to allow five runs.

“We came back,” Johnson said. “We scored four runs with two outs [in the sixth], that’s how good we were swinging. I feel good about the offense. The pitching needs to be straightened out a little bit.”

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