Rodriguez, Maxwell, Hernandez pace Nats to third straight win

By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 18, 2010

The final three players in the Washington Nationals' batting order during their 8-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday were Iván Rodríguez, Justin Maxwell and Liván Hernández -- two players with decorated major league careers sandwiching one whose future is blossoming.

Each was central to the Nationals' victory, with Maxwell displaying the potential of what he could become and Rodríguez and Hernández proving that even players not included in the Nationals' long-term plans can help the team this season.

That season turned in a positive direction this week with a three-game winning streak that has given the Nationals a winning record for the first time since April 4, 2008.

The most impressive of the trio was Hernández, who at 35 reached into his past -- one that includes the most valuable player award in the 1997 World Series -- and pitched a four-hit shutout. It was his 48th career complete game and eighth shutout, but first since 2004. He has not allowed a run in two 2010 starts.

"You never think it's going to be a nine-inning shutout," Hernández said. "I feel good in the bullpen before the game. I know I got to keep the ball down, and with the wind blowing in and a good power hitting team, you don't want to make a lot of mistake."

Manager Jim Riggleman pointed to Hernández's start as an example for the Nationals' young pitchers. Hernández pitched to contact, proving someone without an overpowering arm -- his fastball remained in the mid 80s -- can remain effective.

"He throws 85 miles per hour," first baseman Adam Dunn said, "but he can dot an 'I' with that 85 and put it wherever he wants."

Asked if this is the best he's ever started a season, Hernández could not answer.

"So many years," he said. "I don't know."

The same could be said about his catcher, Rodríguez, a 14-time all-star who went 2 for 4 with three RBI on Saturday. He is batting .419 this season and proving he can still be an effective offensive player at age 38.

"Year doesn't mean anything," Rodríguez said when asked about the aging battery that he and Hernández formed. "You got to go out there and do the job. He's been in baseball for a long time, I've been in baseball for a long time. And we know what to do."

For the Nationals to maintain a winning record, experienced players such as Hernández and Rodríguez need to mesh with young, unproven players such as Maxwell, a 26-year-old Bethesda native who was promoted to the major leagues this week -- the same week his second child was born.

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