- Associated Press - Sunday, February 27, 2011

VIERA, Fla. | Livan Hernandez brings value to the Washington Nationals that can’t simply be summed up by saying he eats up innings, never misses a start and fields his position flawlessly.

The Nationals see the 36-year-old veteran right-hander as the perfect mentor to a clubhouse full of young, talented arms.

DALY OT: Evolution of Livan

“Livan reminds you that the position is called pitcher — it’s not thrower,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. “He gets people out by pitching. He’s a great example to those other guys of what it takes to be successful in terms of fine-tuning your craft. A lot of guys I know watch him pitch and feel like, ‘I’ve got to be able to do that.’”

Earlier this spring, Riggleman said he wasn’t going to announce Hernandez as the Nationals opening day starter yet, but in the next breath declared the crafty veteran had earned it. Hernandez will make his first start of spring training Tuesday, when Washington hosts the New York Mets at Space Coast Stadium.

Hernandez’s days of throwing fastballs that top out in the 90s have long passed. He gets hitters out with his guile, his experience and with a two-seam sinking fastball taught to him in 2003 by then-Los Angeles Dodgers pitching coach Ron Perranoski.

Hernandez says he now throws his four-seamer only on about two out of 100 fastballs.

“Maybe I throw one to the pitcher,” he said.

First baseman Adam LaRoche, who faced Hernandez often throughout his career before signing with Washington as free agent this offseason, likens him to a former Atlanta Braves Cy Young-winning left-hander.

“He reminds me of a right-handed Tom Glavine,” LaRoche said. “I can remember facing Glavine and you know you’re not getting anything over the heart of the plate. When you do, it almost surprises you because it’s so rare that they miss over the middle of the plate.

“I think they read hitters probably up there with the best in the game. And it shows that they’re able to get guys out throwing 82-83.”

Hernandez doesn’t get affected by giving up a big hit or finding himself in a sticky situation. He concentrates on what is in front of him — the next batter. Well, that and making sure he puts the ball exactly where he wants it.

“In baseball, it’s about real estate,” he said. “You buy a good house in a good location, you’re doing good. It’s like that. You put the ball in a good location, nobody can hit you. You get the hitters out of balance and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Being in a locker room full of young pitchers, including Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, helps keep the jovial Hernandez feeling young himself. He likes to give them advice about their approach to certain hitters, even though they throw as much as 10 mph faster than he does.

He also likes to be an example of what it takes to survive in this game.

“This game is not easy to play for a long time,” Hernandez said. “You see a lot of people come to this level and disappear. To stay at this level, you’ve got to be a professional.”

Strasburg, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, got a chance to watch Hernandez pitch last season. The first pick in the 2009 draft gleaned a lot from watching the veteran.

“I’ve learned just to go out there and be comfortable,” Strasburg said. “Go out there and pitch with what you know you have and really, just give it everything you’ve got every single day. Pitch without any doubt.

“A guy like that, to still be pitching in this league, it shows that he has all the confidence in the world in himself — and that’s how every pitcher should be.”

Zimmermann likes the way Hernandez stays in control on the mound, no matter what the situation. Another Nationals starter, John Lannan, watches the way Hernandez works counts and manages the game.

While he is the unquestioned leader of the Nationals pitching staff now, it was just a year ago that Hernandez did not have a job when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. He signed a one-year minor-league contract with Washington on Feb. 24 with the idea he would become the team’s fifth starter.

Though he didn’t get much run support and his record was 10-12, his ERA of 3.66 was his best since 2004 — during his first stint with the Nationals. His performance earned him a $1 million contract with Washington for 2011.

Though he can see himself working in Latin America or serving as an assistant to a general manager someday — something to keep him around the game — Hernandez isn’t ready to think about retirement just yet.

“I try to play five more years and see what’s happening,” he said. “I want to be the Jamie Moyer of right-handers.”


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