Last season, Livan Hernandez allowed two earned runs or fewer in 20 of his 33 starts. In 11 of those 20 starts, the Nationals’ offense and/or bullpen left him with a no-decision or loss. Already this season, Hernandez is 1 for 1 in that category.
Hernandez gave the Nationals reason to feel good about designating him their opening day starter. He allowed two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings on four hits and, most important, no walks with three strikeouts. After Jason Heyward hit a misplaced slider over the right field fence, Hernandez retired 15 in a row and 16 of the last 17 he faced.
Hernandez needed only 77 pitches, 51 of them strikes, to record 19 outs. For what it’s worth, Hernandez threw the fewest pitches per nine innings of any of yesterday’s 12 opening day starters. The stiffness in his neck that bothered him in his final spring training start had vanished. He was pulled only because Heyward was coming to the plate with a man on in the seventh, and it was a no-brainer to pull Hernandez at that point (even if Doug Slaten did walk Heyward).
Yesterday, Hernandez offered a reminder of why and how he can violate the defense-independent pitching principles that govern many of the advanced pitching metrics. He has a special knack for reading swings and a mastery of inducing harmless fly balls. Almost every pitch starts outside or inside the plate before breaking down and close to the edge. He must be hell on an umpire – every pitch taken, it seems, is a close call.
The Braves swung 32 times against Hernandez and missed only five. But only three balls were hit especially hard – Brian McCann’s RBI single in the first was a groundball that rolled through the middle.
After the game, Hernandez talked about how he employs his curveball. He said it fits into a “game plan” – he only intends to use a handful of his looping, 60-mph curves, and use them against a certain kind of batter for a specific aim. He said he threw one curve to Uggla meant to induce a foul ball, but Uggla surprised him when he swung and miss. When you are throwing pitches with the precise mission of the batting hitting a foul ball, you are in control.
If Hernandez pitches like he does yesterday, the Nationals are bound to win the majority of his starts. And maybe Hernandez will even win of them, too.
FROM THE POST
The Nats got shutout on a chilly opening day, but they’re confident offense will come and everything else will be there.
Expect great plays on defense and a ton of strikeout on offense, Boz writes.
Jayson Werth made his Washington debut, as Gene Wang details.
Tracee Hamilton watched the MASN broadcast and found Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo need more time to find their rhythm together.
Sheinin went to St. Louis and saw Albert Pujols’ horrible first game in a Cardinals loss.