Washington Nationals starter Livan Hernandez has been one step ahead of Father Time for years now, defying the odds and much younger hitters while accumulating innings at a dizzying rate. The 36-year-old right-hander reached another milestone on Saturday. Although it came during a 1-0 loss to Florida, Hernandez’s outing in which he tossed his 3,000th inning underscored how guile can overcome a conspicuous lack of velocity and prolong a career spanning 16 seasons.
Before 22,497 at Nationals Park, Hernandez scattered six hits over seven innings, struck out four and faced more than the minimum in just two innings. The second of those came in the seventh, when Marlins right fielder Mike Stanton homered deep to left center for the only blemish on Hernandez’s otherwise sterling performance.
In losing their third straight, the Nationals (18-21) didn’t give Hernandez any help at the plate, going 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and stranding seven base runners. Washington had a chance to win or force a fourth straight extra-inning game after right fielder Jayson Werth singled and left fielder Laynce Nix walked to lead off the ninth, but closer Leo Nunez retired the next three batters for his big-league-best 14th save in as many opportunities for Florida (23-15).
The Nationals also got the leadoff hitter on base in the second and seventh innings before each time bowing meekly to ace Anibal Sanchez, who continued his mastery over Florida’s NL East rival. Sanchez permitted three hits over eight innings with two walks and nine strikeouts. In his previous start last Sunday, Sanchez surrendered just a pair of hits in seven innings and struck out a career-high 11 in an 8-0 victory at home over the Nationals.
“The energy level, the confidence in the dugout has not wavered,” Manager Jim Riggleman said following the fifth game this season in which his club has failed to score. “The guys are just doing everything they can, looking at tape, doing extra work, doing everything they can to come out of this. We’re running into some good pitching, which in the National League East, that’s the way it’s going to be. The National League East has got really good pitching, including ours.”
Hernandez was all of that on a cool, overcast afternoon that felt more like fall than late spring. Over the first four innings, Hernandez yielded two base runners and faced just 13 batters. His walk to Hanley Ramirez in the first inning got erased when catcher Wilson Ramos threw out the shortstop trying to steal second. A two-out single off the bat of Sanchez in the third didn’t do any damage after center fielder Chris Coghlan grounded out to Adam LaRoche.
After a perfect sixth, Hernandez allowed a one-out single to Morrison in the seventh, but Ramos threw him out trying to steal second. Immediately thereafter, Stanton deposited a 2-2 outside fastball to the Red Porch seats attached to the visitors’ bullpen for his seventh home run this season and sixth in his career against the Nationals.
Dobbs doubled following Stanton’s towering blast, and Hernandez issued his third intentional walk of the season, this one to catcher John Buck, before striking out Sanchez swinging on six pitches to complete his historic afternoon. Hernandez joined Boston’s Tim Wakefield as only the second active pitcher with at least 3,000 innings.
With breaking balls in the 60s and a fastball that tops out in the mid-80s, Hernandez remains one of the marvels in the big leagues for his voracious innings output one year after the next. Three times he’s led the NL in innings pitched, and he’s thrown at least 204 innings 10 times and has another season of 1992 / 3 innings over a career that began in Florida and since has comprised more than a half-dozen stops.
“It’s a long career,” said Hernandez, who’s pitched at least five innings in all eight of his starts this season. “Like I said before, it’s not easy. I throw more than 4,000 pitches every year, and it’s not easy, either. I’m very happy with the job I’ve done this year. I know what I do, and all my teammates and all my friends, they know the job I’ve done this year.”