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Posted at 06:52 PM ET, 01/31/2012

Former National Livan Hernandez agrees to minor league contract with Houston Astros

Livan Hernandez, the soft-tossing, rubber-armed right-hander who threw the first pitch in the history of the Washington Nationals, agreed to a minor league contract with the Houston Astros, a person with knowledge of the deal confirmed.

(Susan Walsh - AP)
Hernandez’s agreement with the Astros, which includes an invite to spring training, ends – at least for the moment – the connection between the Nationals and one of the principal figures in the team’s brief history. Hernandez is the team’s all-time leader in wins (44), starts (129), strikeouts (476) and innings pitched (828 2/3). Hernandez started opening day three times for the Nationals, including 2005 and last season. 

Late last season, Hernandez, who will turn 37 in February, expressed his desire to return to Washington, even if he had to take a role as a long reliever. He has said on several occasions he would like to work for the team after his career (unless, of course, he becomes the first Cuban to join the Champions Tour).

Last spring, Hernandez became the target of a federal money laundering investigation involving a convicted Puerto Rican drug lord. Hernandez has not been charged in the case.  

The Nationals, despite Hernandez’s wishes, showed no apparent interest in bringing Hernandez back. They have a packed rotation, with John Lannan and Ross Detwiler currently slated to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation and Tom Gorzelanny and Yunesky Maya as pitchers with significant starting experience in reserve. 

Even through his unseemly legal troubles last season, Hernandez maintained his easy-going persona and likeability among both teammates fans. He constantly doled out advice to younger teammates in the clubhouse, and on the mound spun mesmerizing, mid-60s curveballs and pinpoint mid-80s fastballs. He would maybe fire a gem or maybe get yanked in the third inning. We would definitely beat anybody in the clubhouse in a round of golf. 

Last season, Hernandez went 8-13 with a 4.47 ERA in 175 1/3 innings before the Nationals shut him down in order to make room in their rotation for younger starters. In 15 of his 29 outings, Hernandez threw a quality start.  

Hernandez earned $1 million last season – a contract he negotiated during the 2010 season by writing down the salary on a notepad, walking up to General Manager Mike Rizzo and proclaiming, “I play for this.”

That deal continued Hernandez’s second tour with the Nationals. Hernandez spent 2003 through mid-2006 with the Expos/Nationals franchise, at which point they traded him to the Diamondbacks. After stints with Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota and the Mets, Hernandez re-joined the Nationals at the end of the 2009, and they signed him to a minor league deal in February 2010.

 Ken Rosenthal of first reported Hernandez’s deal with the Astros.

By  |  06:52 PM ET, 01/31/2012

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