Washington's Hernandez Goes the Distance in L.A.

Nats' Livan Hernandez retires the first nine men he faces en route to a 131-pitch, complete-game performance.
Nats' Livan Hernandez retires the first nine men he faces en route to a 131-pitch, complete-game performance. (By Chris Pizzello -- Associated Press)

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 5, 2005

LOS ANGELES, May 4 - The standards are clearly different. When Zach Day gets in trouble, Nationals Manager Frank Robinson comes to get him, and quick. When Livan Hernandez finds himself in a fix, Robinson frequently stays on the top step of the dugout, watching his ace work.

That's what happened Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium. On a day when Robinson said Day "thinks I hate him," Hernandez gave the Nationals a much-needed 5-2 victory over the National League West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers by working out of one bases-loaded situation en route to his first complete game of the year, allowing seven hits.

"He pitched a gutsy ballgame," Robinson said.

First baseman Nick Johnson drove in two runs with his third homer and an RBI single, the Nationals scored four in the seventh inning and Washington beat its top off-season pitching target - Los Angeles lefty Odalis Perez - en route to taking two of three from the Dodgers to start a nine-game West Coast swing.

Hernandez (4-2) was nearly at his best, retiring the first nine men he faced and benefiting from splendid defensive plays from shortstop Cristian Guzman and third baseman Vinny Castilla at crucial moments, throwing 131 pitches. He gave up a run in the fourth on a single, stolen base and two ground-outs, but the Nationals immediately got that back on Johnson's solo homer in the fifth, his third of the year.

Hernandez's key moment came in the fifth, when he walked Cesar Izturis loaded the bases with two outs. He said afterward that pitching around Izturis was part of his strategy, because he preferred to face first baseman Hee-Seop Choi.

Day wouldn't be afforded that luxury. On Tuesday night, Robinson yanked Day in the same situation in the fourth inning of a 4-2 loss. That led to a tense moment in which Day turned his back toward Robinson when the manager came to remove him. And it led Robinson to say before Wednesday's game that Day could benefit from a change of scenery.

"You don't want it to continue the way it is, to become unbearable to the point where it affects him, it affects his performance, and it affects my sleep patterns at night and my friendly, sunny personality," Robinson said before Wednesday's game. "Then, you have to start thinking about: Would [he] be better off if he'd go someplace else?"

Day, who is 1-2 with a 5.06 ERA, missed his previous start after developing an ear infection that affected his balance. After feeling a bit dizzy after the game Tuesday, he had the ear checked again Wednesday, said it remained the same, and will continue to monitor it. He also didn't dispute Robinson's assessment of whether a trade might be good for him.

"It's something that I've thought about," Day said. "I'll just put it like that."

Day, 26, will be moved to the bullpen next week after Tony Armas Jr., out with a groin injury, is activated from the disabled list.

"I don't think going to the pen helps," pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. "If you don't have any confidence, you don't have any confidence. If you don't trust your stuff and believe in your stuff and believe in yourself, what's the difference?"


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