WASHINGTON – Livan Hernandez threw the first pitch in the history of the Washington Nationals against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 4, 2005. A week later, he threw the first pitch at RFK Stadium as baseball was back in the city of Washington for the first time in 34 years.
That day at RFK, Livo threw a first-pitch strike to the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Craig Counsell in a game the Nationals won 5-3.
Hernandez now pitches out of the bullpen for the Milwaukee Brewers who are in a race of their own for the post season, but there is no question Livo has been such a big part of Nationals history, pitching to a record of 44-37 during his time here in D.C., and his last stint with the club from 2009 until the end of last season might have had the most impact.
Hernandez got a chance to mentor some of the younger guys in this starting rotation like Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler. He was a tremendous help to Sean Burnett early last year when the left-hander was struggling. Hernandez took the time to go down to the bullpen and help Burnett with some mechanical issues, which helped him get back on track, and he went on to have solid season.
“I feel good because I know I put a little touch over there with the young guys,” Hernandez told reporters in the Brewers clubhouse. “It’s a great feeling, and it’s something you do to help people make the playoffs and play in October. And for the franchise, this is the first time since 81, the first time in 30-something years, you know, that’s a lot of years of not making the playoffs.”
Hernandez has been known as a workhorse throughout his career. Nine times in his 17-year Major League career, he has thrown well over 200 innings, including seven straight from 2000-2006.
He paid attention to this team when he was with the Houston Astros in Spring Training in Kissimmee and is not surprised at what they have accomplished up to now.
“Everybody talked about Florida, and they have a great team, but I didn’t know if they had the chemistry like this team,” he says. “Earlier, I played with Atlanta, and I knew that team was going to make it because the chemistry inside was good. Before the season started I went with Atlanta and Washington.
“Watching it, I know how the people are here. I am not surprised by it because I knew before the season this team was going to surprise a lot of people. People were not counting on this team making the playoffs but people were wrong.”
Of course, the one person the Nationals won’t have in the post season is right-hander Stephen Strasburg who the Nats shutdown after his start on Sept. 7 against the Cardinals when he lasted just three innings, giving up 5 runs on 6 hits in a 9-7 loss.
Strasburg ended his year 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA, pitching 159 1/3 innings. Hernandez says he sympathizes with Strasburg, and while it was a tough decision to take out the Nationals’ number-one player, it was the right one.
“I feel bad for Strasburg,” Hernandez says. “It’s the same way with a franchise player like Jordan (Zimmermann). You have to take care of what you’ve got there, and you don’t want to push the guy too much. I understand Mike Rizzo, and if I’m Mike Rizzo, I would do the same thing.
“I would do it the same way, and Strasburg, you have to understand you have to take care of yourself because there are more playoffs coming, and this city is going to be in the World Series. And if not this year, maybe next year or real soon and win the World Series title.”
Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo said all along there would be an innings limit, and there was going to be a time when they would shut him down. Hernandez says while it may be tough for Strasburg to swallow now, concern for his long-term future is the biggest priority.
“I think this is what the owner and Mike Rizzo are looking at,” Hernandez says. “You don’t want to blow his arm out again. I know he’s frustrated, and I know this is why you play baseball. You play baseball to pitch the whole year, but you have to understand it’s a hard decision, but Mike Rizzo would want him there. If you are Mike Rizzo, how would you not want Strasburg pitching the whole year?”