Hernandez continues career renaissance as Nationals subdue Cubs

By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

CHICAGO -- In late March, the Washington Nationals made an implicit statement about the direction of their franchise by naming rookie Ian Desmond the shortstop over incumbent starter Cristian Guzmán. The bold move signaled a look to the future.

Off to their best start since moving to Washington in 2005 -- and with pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg in their farm system -- the Nationals have already started to put their past behind them. It is early, and it is modest, but for the Nationals, it is progress.

The latest example of Washington's gradual evolution came Tuesday when Desmond, known for his rangy defense, had two hits and drove in two runs, including an insurance run in the eighth inning to put away the Chicago Cubs in a 3-1 victory before 37,440 at Wrigley Field.

"I couldn't be happier with the way he's played," Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman said of his rookie shortstop.

In Desmond, Washington (11-10) has gained a graceful, nearly flawless fielder and a vocal presence; in fact, Riggleman called Desmond to "a young captain" because of the way he interacts with his teammates on the field.

On Tuesday, hitting in the No. 2 hole behind Nyjer Morgan, Desmond started to perk up offensively. "It just feels good to finally get some hacks," Desmond said. "Hitting at the top of the order is a little easier for me. It's nice to be able to get an at bat early in the game."

Washington starter Liván Hernández had another glowing start in halting the Cubs (10-11) and their four-game win streak.

Hernández, who builds his success on a mix of loopy off-speed pitches, relied mainly on a down-and-away sinker. The Cubs' batters stared at the pitches or fouled them off in search of hittable offerings.

In seven innings, Hernández (3-1) allowed only one run on six hits, all singles. He threw 99 pitches, 62 for strikes. It has been a remarkable career renaissance with the Nationals for Hernández, who also pitched in Washington in the 2005 and 2006 seasons.

"This is what we're looking for, consistency," Hernández said when asked if he could sustain his 0.87 ERA. "I throw three or four good games. It's early. I feel good, like I said in spring training. Let's see."

Cubs starter Tom Gorzelanny (0-3) went inning for inning with Hernández. Gorzelanny faced the minimum three batters in the second, third, fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

A lefty with an impressive slider, Gorzelanny tempted Washington's batters to swing early, and induced a number of fly outs. He allowed just two runs and five hits with three strikeouts and two walks in seven innings, his longest start of the season.

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