Familiar Faces Lift Nationals Past S.F.

All-star Alfonso Soriano was expected to fetch some quality minor-league talent, but instead, he's staying put.
All-star Alfonso Soriano was expected to fetch some quality minor-league talent, but instead, he's staying put. (By Marcio Jose Sanchez -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 2, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 1 -- Livan Hernandez used to do this all the time. He pitched seven innings every time out, baffled batters with his ridiculously slow curveball, shrugged his shoulders as he walked off the mound, as if to say, "Hit that!"

Tuesday night, the old Hernandez resurfaced, spinning seven innings of one-run ball, spurring the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants, the Nationals' second straight win here, the Giants' ninth consecutive defeat. It was the kind of performance that has made Hernandez a constant in Washington, never missing a start, no matter if his knee ailed him or his stuff failed him.

"From the times I have caught him," catcher Brian Schneider said, "there's no doubt in my mind that was the best he's been."

The mainstays on these Nationals won this game. Hernandez, who has allowed three or fewer runs in six of his last seven starts, yielded six hits and walked one.

Alfonso Soriano, fresh off remaining with Washington following the trade deadline, drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. Schneider had two hits and scored a run. Felipe Lopez, the shortstop of the future acquired in a trade last month, walked twice, scored twice and hit a triple. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman provided a cushion with a two-run double in the eighth that turned a one-run lead into a three. And Chad Cordero finished it off with his 19th save.

"We finally broke through," Manager Frank Robinson said.

Aside from Hernandez -- who might still be traded this month if the Nationals can pass him through waivers -- those players should all be with Washington next year and beyond. But over the course of this season, the Nationals' roster has been in constant flux. When catcher Brandon Harper arrived Tuesday to replace injured Robert Fick, he became the 50th player to wear a Washington uniform this season.

Where do most of those players come from? Why, the Nationals' farm system, one which is bereft of front-line talent.

"You have to go get players from some place," Robinson said.

But getting them from the current Washington system doesn't allow for long-term success. Thus, General Manager Jim Bowden entered the July trade season hungry to move players, to fill in talent where there now is almost none. Soriano, the left fielder, was widely considered the player who could command the most in return, a commodity who could help start the rebuilding process in the Nationals' farm system.

Yet when Bowden took Soriano to market -- his price set and unwavering, top prospects and nothing else -- he found that the marketplace had changed. Unable to trade Soriano for what he considered fair value, Bowden was left reconsidering what he believes is an evolving landscape.

"Trades may not be as viable an option [to improve farm systems] as they've been the last 10 years," he said. "When you get to a trade deadline, and zero top prospects are traded, and yet quality players like Bobby Abreu and Sean Casey are changing hands . . . the industry's changed. When you have teams like the Red Sox that refuse to make a trade to help themselves because they don't want to give up their prospects, that hasn't happened before.

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