By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2010; D01
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.
Thursday summarized Hernández's incomparable style and his longevity. He threw 72 of his 102 pitches for strikes, making the Reds chase his cutters, sinkers and sliders as they carved the edges of the plate. He threw no pitch faster than 87 mph and unfurled 11 slower than 70.
"I just go back to when I used to face him," said Dunn, a former Red. "He's not going to miss over the middle of the plate. He throws 85 miles an hour. If he throws over the middle of the plate, he's going to get killed. He knows that. You know that. You tend to expand on him. When you do that, you're done."
The Nationals' offense supplied plenty of support. They smeared Edinson Vólquez, who was making his second start since returning from elbow ligament replacement surgery and a 50-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He issued consecutive walks to Harris, Adam Kennedy and Wil Nieves in the second inning. Up came Hernández, who put to use another mark of his longevity: He is the only active pitcher with at least 200 career hits. He rolled a 1-0 single through the left side, giving the Nationals a 2-0 lead.
Ryan Zimmerman led off the third with a single and Dunn launched a two-run homer to left field. Harris tripled on a ball off the top of the right field fence, and Kennedy followed with an RBI single that ended Vólquez's day. He had thrown 75 pitches in 2 1/3 innings. Hernández, cruising, did not throw his 75th pitch until the eighth inning.
Hernández threw more innings than any other pitcher last decade, and only Roy Halladay has more complete games among active pitchers. He beat the Reds on the road for the first time since August 2000. It was his first win at Great American Ball Park, the 31st park where he has won. When told, Hernández smiled and said, "Thank you."
"Yeah, I'm proud," he said. "When I retire in four more years -- maybe five more, four, three, I don't know -- what I want the people taking home is: This guy is a pitcher. He likes to pitch. He's a good teammate. He respects everybody. When I go on the mound, I want people thinking, every five days, I'm there to give my best. This is what I mean.
"I'm happy with my career. I'm really happy."