Livan Hernandez powers Washington Nationals past Atlanta Braves, 6-0

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 15, 2010; 12:17 AM

ATLANTA - Nights like Tuesday make the Washington Nationals wonder. How can they be so bad when they're capable of being so good? Livan Hernandez was mystifying batters, Ryan Zimmerman was smoking line drives, Adam Dunn was mashing a tape-measure home run. By the end, they had dominated a contender.

For one night, while they thumped the Atlanta Braves, 6-0, before an announced 26,954 at Turner Field, the Nationals looked nothing like a team breaking a six-game losing streak, a team playing out the string with call-ups populating their lineup, a team six losses away from 90. The end of their losing skid was cause for celebration and confusion.

"We're just a weird team," Dunn said. "I don't know how to put it. We can't seem to put everything together on a consistent basis. Everything is here. We get good pitching for two weeks, and we can't hit anything. We swing the bats really good for two weeks and we can't get anybody out. It's just a really weird thing to figure out."

One answer: Any team will look great with a singular performance like Hernandez's. Hernandez produced one of his best pitching outings and backed it with his unlikeliest hitting display. While shutting out the Braves for eight innings on five hits and two walks, Hernandez went 2 for 4 with a home run, a double and two RBI.

The Nationals bulwarked his effort with a breakout offensive night, led by Dunn's monstrous two-run home run in the second inning and capped when Ian Desmond - who had struck out four times Monday night and then refused a day off Tuesday - blasted a solo shot in the ninth.

The first sign that Tuesday would be different came in the second inning, after Zimmerman singled against Jair Jurrjens to lead off the inning. Jurrjens fed Dunn a 1-1, 83-mph change-up that he blasted to center field. He posed for a moment, but not too long. ("We've already been in one brawl," Dunn said. "I don't feel like starting another.") The ball sailed over the seats and landed on the concourse beyond them, nearly hitting a few fans in line to buy beer.

Officially, the blast traveled an estimated 455 feet, the sixth-longest home run in Turner Field history. Unofficially, it seemed to land just beyond a sign on the concourse marked "460 feet." Hernandez thought it went 480.

"I don't know who's measuring these things," Desmond said. "I don't know a lot about physics - I only went to high school - but I think it has to go farther if it went past the sign."

Albert Pujols has pulled away from Dunn in the race for the National League home run title and now leads, 39-35. But Pujols did not play Tuesday night after receiving an injection in his ailing left arm, and if Dunn gets hot, he may yet pass Pujols.

"Rickey Henderson steals bags. Nolan Ryan strikes people out. I try to hit home runs," Dunn said. "That's kind of what I do. If I didn't hit home runs, I wouldn't be in this league right now."

Dunn's shot gave Hernandez all he needed. In the bullpen before the game, his slider broke and his sinker was sharp. He knew he should have a great game. In the first, he ran into a complication - he felt his neck stiffen after Omar Infante, the first batter of the game, grounded back to him.

After the inning, Hernandez retreated to the clubhouse, where a trainer cracked his neck - "Very nice," Hernandez said. From there, he cruised. Hernandez lasted 118 pitches and struck out six, consistently baffling the Braves with slow curves and precise, darting sinkers on the outside corner.

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