Burrell's Homer Is Beginning Of End

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 11, 2006

There are very few players about whom Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson could make the following statement: "One hundred fifteen pitches is not that many pitches for him."

So with a bullpen drained by a marathon, 12-inning game Friday night, Livan Hernandez took to the mound in the eighth inning yesterday afternoon at RFK Stadium, his right arm having unleashed a day's worth of pitches already. Yet Robinson allowed him three more in the eighth, all as he protected a one-run lead. The second pitch became a single to Philadelphia's Bobby Abreu, the next a two-run home run to Pat Burrell, and a game the Nationals might have won quickly disintegrated into a 6-2 loss.

Thus, the Nationals' momentum -- buoyed by their 9-8 victory over the Phillies that began Friday night and ended early yesterday morning -- was briefly halted, because they couldn't capitalize on their own scoring opportunities in the late innings, because the bullpen and the defense let the Phillies pour on three more runs in the eighth, and because Hernandez made that one mistake to Burrell, his only true miscue on an otherwise dazzling day on which he overcame the flu to allow one run through seven innings.

"A lot of people who got the flu don't pitch," Hernandez said. "I don't understand that."

A lot of people don't understand Hernandez, period. He annually leads the National League in innings pitched, and even as he has struggled through much of the early part of this season, he tends to let the bullpen relax until the eighth.

"Livan's as tough as anybody in the game," Burrell said.

Added Phillies starter Cory Lidle, who gave up two runs in his six innings, "He's probably one of the smartest pitchers out there."

Because of those qualities, and because he knows his body -- the one that looks like that of, say, a refrigerator repair man rather than a staff ace -- Robinson frequently lets Hernandez determine when he's ready to come out of a game, when he wants to go another frame. Yesterday, though, the Nationals' bullpen was without the services of closer Chad Cordero and rookie left-hander Bill Bray, who combined to throw five scoreless innings in Friday night's win.

Robinson said the decision to stick with Hernandez was based on the fact that the Nationals held a 2-1 lead, that he had expertly used a pair of double play balls to get out of the sixth and seventh innings, that in that instance, he had the best chance of retiring Abreu and Burrell, two men capable of tying the score with one swing of the bat.

"It's the way he's pitching," Robinson said. "He was in control of the game."

He threw a strike to Abreu to start the inning, and then the Phillies right fielder smashed a one-hopper directly at second baseman Jose Vidro. Vidro knocked the ball down, but couldn't throw out Abreu in time, and the play was ruled a single. That brought up the cleanup man, Burrell, who had changed Friday night's game with a two-run homer that completed a five-run Phillies rally in the seventh.

"I've had very limited success against him," said Burrell, hitting .273 against Hernandez over the course of his career.

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