Nationals Notebook

Liván Hernández signs minor league contract with Nationals

The Washington Nationals continue spring training at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla.
By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010

VIERA, FLA. -- Addressing their persistent need for starting rotation depth, the Washington Nationals on Wednesday renewed one of their most enduring relationships, signing right-handed pitcher Liván Hernández to a minor league deal. Hernández, who turned 35 last week, will be in camp Friday and becomes the clearest candidate for a spot at the back end of the rotation.

Now entering their sixth season since relocation, the Nationals have seen Hernández at almost every stage of his career -- first when he was an all-star-caliber ace, later when he developed a reputation for ordinary numbers but extraordinary durability. Hernández started the Nationals' very first game at RFK Stadium. He won 15 games in 2005. He has surpassed the 200-inning mark in nine seasons and ranks sixth among active players in innings pitched.

And that track record differentiates Hernández from other candidates -- J.D. Martin, Craig Stammen and Garrett Mock, among others -- vying for the final spots in the rotation. Facing the recent injury to Ross Detwiler (hip) and lingering questions about the health of presumed No. 3 starter Scott Olsen (shoulder), Washington this week sought insurance. General Manager Mike Rizzo explored several options, including free agent Braden Looper, but eventually settled on Hernández, who has told the team he is ready to pitch immediately.

This will be Hernández's third stint with the organization, and the history runs deep. He began his career with the Marlins and later joined the Giants. Then he went to the Expos in 2003, and arrived in Washington as the designated ace. In 2005, Hernández threw 246 1/3 innings and had a 3.98 ERA. But on Aug. 7, 2006, the club traded him to Arizona in exchange for starters Mock and Matt Chico. Late last August, just days after his release by the New York Mets, the Nationals signed Hernández and immediately inserted him into their rotation. In eight starts with Washington, Hernandez went 2-4 with a 5.36 ERA. But six of those eight games were quality starts.

All told, Hernández had a 9-12 record and a 5.44 ERA in 2009. At the end of the season, he emphasized his appreciation for Washington, and his hope to remain with the team.

Strasburg debut set

Stephen Strasburg, as he already has proven this spring, can make national news just by throwing 40 pitches in a bullpen. The next step in his development may attract yet another level of attention. On March 9, Strasburg will debut at Space Coast Stadium in a Grapefruit League game against the Tigers. Tickets at the 8,100-seat facility cost between $10 and $20.

Outfield opportunity

Manager Jim Riggleman said on Wednesday that Ian Desmond will get some outfield playing time this spring, perhaps starting in the first Grapefruit League game. Even though Washington views Desmond as a shortstop, he boosts his chances to make this team in a utility role, because Washington only wants him in the big leagues if he can get semi-regular at-bats. If he can show a knack for multiple positions, he'll help his chances.

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