Livan Hernandez will pitch tonight against the Philadelphia Phillies, the last of his 35 starts, a total that will likely tie for the most in the National League. He has already thrown 2391/3 innings, and his normal seven- or eight-inning outing should give him a chance to lead the majors in innings pitched for the third straight season. No one in baseball has hurled more than his 3,880 pitches, about 114 per start.

So with the Washington Nationals eliminated from playoff contention and Hernandez slated to undergo knee surgery Wednesday, the question becomes: Why pitch?

"I like the competition," Hernandez said. "I think you got to see that. Everybody knows me. I like to be in the game. I like to pitch."

Thus, Hernandez will take the mound, even though, as Manager Frank Robinson said, "A lot of guys would not have pitched."

The knee has bothered Hernandez since a May 14 start against the Chicago Cubs. He never missed his turn in the rotation, but he had to alter his mechanics.

"He could not push off the mound and he couldn't get his position," Robinson said. "He was throwing straight up. He couldn't get down and drive toward home plate off of that knee."

The mechanical alterations have taken 4 mph to 5 mph off Hernandez's fastball, according to pitching coach Randy St. Claire. But Hernandez said he thinks his control was affected the most.

"I got a lot of walks, and not many strikeouts," he said. "The year before I could do whatever I want on the mound. And when more time passes, [the knee] gets worse. I'm not complaining, because I wanted to pitch. But it's not perfect."

It showed. Hernandez went 12-3 with a 3.48 ERA before the all-star break, 3-6 with a 4.54 ERA since.

Wilkerson's Average Slipping

In his first three full major league seasons, Brad Wilkerson has never hit worse than .250, yet he is in danger of doing so now. Wilkerson's 0-for-5 night in Wednesday's 11-7 victory over Florida dropped his average to .248. Though he remains third in the National League in strikeouts, his total will likely drop for the third straight year. He has 145, down from 152 a year ago.

"I feel like I figured something out the last month," he said. His 17 strikeouts in September are his fewest in any month this year.