Livan Hernandez's complete game gives Washington Nationals a second straight win over Cincinnati Reds

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2010

CINCINNATI -- Liván Hernández, the man his Washington Nationals teammates have taken to calling "the Don," took it easy Thursday afternoon. He walked to the mound. He threw his pitches, typically no more than a dozen per inning, while sun shimmered off the gold chain around his neck. He walked back. He kept doing it until there were no more pitches to throw.

In the Nationals' 7-1 thumping of the Cincinnati Reds, Hernández twirled the second complete game of his remarkable season and 49th of his career, a seven-hit, no-walk, five-strikeout gem. The Nationals received contributions from everywhere as they won consecutive road games for the first time since May 13. Nyjer Morgan set a single-game Nationals record with three stolen bases, Adam Dunn hit his 23rd home run and the Nationals scored at least seven runs in three straight games for the first time this year.

The most important performance came from Hernández, their most reliable and most defiant pitcher. Released four times in two years, passed over by the entire league this winter, Hernández, 35, has spent four months proving, as he said, "I've still got a lot of gas in the tank." He remembers the slights he suffered, and he carries them every start.

"People can talk about how, 'Livo is not this,' but I don't think about that," Hernández said. "I want to go outside and try to prove people wrong. My friends and my teammates are always like, 'You're a really good pitcher. You can pitch.' But I've got to show some different people. I'm not dumb. I go outside every time I pitch and think about that. It helps me a lot."

On Thursday, Hernández provided a complete game when the Nationals needed one, and gave them a split of the four-game series after dropping the first two games. "It couldn't have come at a better time," Manager Jim Riggleman said. Their bullpen had thrown 7 1/3 innings in two games, and they had to consider calling up a reliever just for the two games until Sunday, when the Nationals will need a roster spot to replace ailing starter Luis Atilano. Hernández made it moot.

"That's clutch for us," reliever Drew Storen said.

By the fifth inning, by which time Hernández had thrown 57 pitches, he could sense a complete game within his grasp. In the humidity -- "I think it was 100 or something like that," he said -- he drank seven bottles of water during the game.

After Drew Stubbs lifted Hernández's 102nd pitch, a curveball, to the warning track in left, Hernández turned, watched and muttered, "No, don't go." For a moment, his complete game appeared in doubt. When the ball settled in Willie Harris's glove for the final out, Hernández threw his hands over his head and started laughing.

He lowered his ERA this season to 3.12. The Nationals signed him for insurance. The only reason he is not their ace is because last year they happened to draft the most celebrated pitching prospect ever. He has not missed any start, and made one on three days' rest. He's thrown 44 more innings than any other Nationals pitcher.

"He's been our best pitcher," Dunn said. "By far."

"He's been everything for our staff," Riggleman said.

"Liván's historical, man," Harris said.

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