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Nats Sign Hernández; Send Balester to Syracuse

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Until Tuesday, the Washington Nationals relied on a rotation with too little experience and too few pitchers capable of going deep in ballgames. With one signing, the Nationals hoped to change that. The Nationals on Tuesday night signed 34-year-old Liván Hernández, a durable right-hander who last Thursday was released by the New York Mets. Hernández will join the team immediately and start Wednesday's game against the Chicago Cubs. To make room for Hernández, the Nationals sent right-hander Collin Balester to Class AAA Syracuse.

Explaining the move, General Manager Mike Rizzo said: "We looked at where we were at with our young starting pitching and we got to the facts that we're running out of innings with some of these young guys and I refuse to push them past their limits. And Liván was available. We discussed him with our player-personnel people and he's a good guy in the clubhouse, he's got some friends here on the ballclub, and he's nothing else but a workhorse and a reliable arm to get us some innings and get us through the rest of the season."

Hernández already has a history with the Nationals. He first pitched for the Expos in 2003, and came to Washington as its designated ace when the franchise relocated. With the Nationals in 2005, Hernández went 15-10, threw 246 1/3 innings, and had a 3.98 ERA. On Aug. 7, 2006, he was traded to Arizona in exchange for minor league starters Garrett Mock and Matt Chico. Mock, who improved to 3-5 in Tuesday's 15-6 win, said after learning of the Hernández signing, "It's going to be a pleasure for me to watch the guy, maybe pick his brain."

Washington has long targeted a veteran pitcher capable of mentoring its young staff. Hernández, with a 154-147 record and a 4.43 career ERA, is eighth among active pitchers in innings pitched. Asked whether the team might want to have Hernández back in 2010, Rizzo said, "Right now it's just going to be a showcase for him the rest of the season, and we'll see where it takes us from there."

Hernández's signing prompted the Nationals to reshuffle their rotation. J.D. Martin will start Thursday, and John Lannan will open the weekend series in St. Louis on Friday.

Balester was demoted after just seven starts this season. Though Rizzo and interim manager Jim Riggleman speak often of the 23-year-old's raw ability, Balester has yet to translate that into results. He had a 1-4 record, a 6.82 ERA, allowing 10 home runs in 30 1/3 innings.

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