Poor Start Dooms Nats

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Livan Hernandez's problems began in the first inning, just as they have so often during his troubling start to this sluggish Washington Nationals season. A single got it started, a double and an error deepened his crisis, and by the time his laborious inning ended at RFK Stadium, the deficit was three runs.

Hernandez didn't have a terrible night, but he did find a way to place the Nationals into an early predicament, one they were never able to overcome in a 4-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds before 19,264 -- the smallest home turnout since the club relocated to Washington last year.

Hernandez (1-3) allowed another run in the second and Washington couldn't do much against Elizardo Ramirez, a 23-year-old right-hander making his fifth career start and first since being called up from Class AAA Louisville to replace the injured Eric Milton in the rotation.

Hernandez -- who has allowed 12 first-inning runs in five starts this year -- yielded just two harmless singles after the second inning, but the damage had been done.

"I'm ready for the game, but I don't know what happened in the first inning," said Hernandez, who left in the seventh inning. "I try to make people out, but it's not happening. I try to put it out of my mind. I have a bad inning and that's it."

Commenting on Hernandez's first-inning woes this year, exasperated Nationals Manager Frank Robinson said: "I don't know what it is. I'm just on the side looking at it and the runs are going up on the board."

The runs are not going up on the board for the Nationals (7-12, 1-5 at RFK), who on Sunday, despite 11 hits, scored just once against the Braves, and last night managed only one extra-base hit among their six.

Ramirez also experienced a shaky first inning, but unlike Hernandez, limited the damage to two hits and one run, and found himself in a jam just once more before leaving in the eighth and eventually earning his first major league victory.

Ramirez, who also contributed his first hit in the majors, retired 12 straight at one point as the Reds improved to 13-7, their best 20-game start in 12 years.

"It's not just Ramirez, we don't seem to be able to handle pitchers we don't know," Robinson said. "He mixed up his pitches pretty good, he moved it around, but still we weren't very selective and weren't very patient against him. . . . I don't know what the panic or what the rush is; you've got to have a game plan and hit to your strength."

Shortstop Royce Clayton had the only extra base hit -- a double into the right field corner that deflected off Austin Kearns's glove in the fifth -- but he and his teammates couldn't solve the Reds' starter.

"He was able to keep us off balance," Clayton said, "but we were flat."

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