Livan Hernandez wasn’t guaranteed a roster spot when he decided to return to the Washington Nationals during the offseason.
Another solid year by the veteran right-hander plus an injury to the team’s prized rookie pitcher has ended any doubt about where Hernandez will begin 2011.
Making his first start since signing an extension with the club, Hernandez takes the ball Friday at PNC Park where the Nationals open a three-game series against the major league-worst Pittsburgh Pirates.
Signed as a free agent last August after getting released by the New York Mets, Hernandez went 2-4 with a 5.36 ERA in eight starts for the Nationals in 2009.
Looking to continue a major league career that started in 1996, Hernandez (9-9, 3.49 ERA) signed a minor league deal with Washington on Feb. 24. The 35-year-old right-hander has parlayed that spring training invite into another good season and a one-year deal for 2011.
With rookie right-hander Stephen Strasburg possibly out all of next season following Tommy John surgery scheduled for Friday, the decision to re-sign the club’s all-time leader in wins (35), starts (94), innings pitched (617) and strikeouts (354) was an easy one.
Hernandez, though, has allowed 12 runs and 18 hits over 10 2-3 innings in his last two starts, and he’s 1-4 with a 6.66 ERA in nine outings in Pittsburgh. Trying to reach double-digit wins for the 11th time, Hernandez will look to help Washington (57-77) improve its 23-46 road record.
Zachary Duke (6-12, 5.17) faces the Nationals Friday. The left-hander is looking to bounce back from a subpar effort in Saturday’s 8-7, 11-inning loss at Milwaukee.
Washington has won five in a row against Pittsburgh after dropping seven of eight.
By the time the Nationals take the field in Pittsburgh on Friday night, they could know whether or not they'll have Nyjer Morgan available to face his former team, or for any games in the near future.
ESPN.com reported that Major League Baseball likely will hand down a decision Friday about a suspension for Morgan, who charged the mound during Wednesday's game against the Marlins when Chris Volstad threw behind him.
Morgan, who had collided with catcher Brett Hayes at home plate the night before, was hit with a pitch in his second at-bat of the game, then stole second and third with the Nationals down 14-3. That angered the Marlins, and Volstad's pitch triggered the brawl.
The center fielder already has a seven-game suspension looming for his actions in Philadelphia on Aug. 21, when he threw a ball into the stands and hit a fan. Morgan has appealed that suspension, and he will have a hearing Sept. 7.
But with more discipline looming, it's possible that Morgan won't get the benefit of playing through another appeals process this time.
--C Wil Nieves hit his third homer of the year Wednesday against the Marlins, increasing his career high with a two-run shot off Jorge Sosa in the seventh inning. It was the first of Nieves' five career homers to land in the upper deck. He was 2-for-4, scored two runs and was also hit by a pitch.
--RF Michael Morse went 2-for-5 with an RBI against the Marlins on Wednesday, extending his hitting streak to six games. In that time, Morse is hitting .542 with a homer, four RBI and a .917 slugging percentage. He'll continue to get more playing time, especially if the Nationals' already-thin outfield loses Nyjer Morgan to a suspension.
--RHP Yunesky Maya allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings for Class AAA Syracuse on Wednesday night, making what could be his final minor league start before the Nationals call him up. Maya is expected to be among the team's September call-ups, and he could pitch Tuesday if the Nationals decide to remove struggling LHP Scott Olsen from their rotation.
--1B Adam Dunn went 2-for-3 with an RBI on Wednesday night against the Marlins, extending his hot streak after a prolonged slump in August. He is hitting .600 in his last five games, having homered twice and driven in nine runs in that span. Dunn's season average is back up to .268.
--RHP Craig Stammen continued to struggle in his new relief role Wednesday night, allowing six runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Marlins after coming in for LHP Scott Olsen. Hitters have a .906 OPS against Stammen as a reliever, and he's allowed 13 runs in 16 innings.
BY THE NUMBERS: 12.2 -- Strikeouts per nine innings that Stephen Strasburg averaged in his rookie season. Strasburg had 92 K's in 12 starts, striking out 33.6 percent of the hitters he faced. In baseball history, only Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson have had a higher percentage of strikeouts during a season in which they made 10 or more starts.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was kind of a shock to me, because I didn't really feel anything. In a way, it's good that it happened now, instead of when we're going to the postseason or getting ready for a World Series. It's a new challenge. I want to be the best at everything, and right now, I'm going to be the best at rehabbing and getting back out here." -- RHP Stephen Strasburg, on his initial reaction to learning he would need Tommy John surgery.
--RHP Stephen Strasburg (torn ulnar collateral ligament in right elbow) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Aug. 22, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on Sept. 1. He will undergo Tommy John elbow surgery Sept. 3, and he will be out 12 to 18 months.
--LHP Ross Detwiler (strained right hip flexor) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Aug. 6. He began a rehab assignment with Class A Potomac on Aug. 28, and he could rejoin the Nationals in September.
--RHP Garrett Mock (cervical spine injury) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 11, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on June 21. He began a minor league rehab assignment Aug. 4, but then he missed a start in late August due to neck soreness. He returned to action Aug. 28 with Class AAA Syracuse.
--C Jesus Flores (right shoulder surgery in September 2009, arthroscopic right elbow surgery in October 2009) went on the 60-day disabled list April 4. He was playing simulated games in mid-June, but his rehab program was shut down in early July because of renewed pain. He resumed throwing in late July. By mid-August, he was rehabbing in Viera, Fla.
--RHP Chien-Ming Wang (right shoulder surgery in July 2009) went on the 60-day disabled list April 4. He was throwing bullpen sessions in late July, but in mid-August he was only throwing off flat ground. As of late August, it was looking doubtful that Wang might pitch for the Nationals this year.
--OF Josh Willingham (torn meniscus in left knee) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Aug. 16. He had season-ending arthroscopic surgery Aug. 25 to clean up cartilage damage. He should be ready for spring training, trainer Lee Kuntz said.
--RHP J.D. Martin (bulging disk in back) went on the 15-day disabled list July 25, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on Aug. 5. He had season-ending surgery Aug. 10.
--RHP Luis Atilano (bone chips in his right elbow) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to July 21, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on Aug. 17. He had season-ending surgery Aug. 5.
--RHP Tyler Walker (right shoulder inflammation) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 20, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on Aug. 2. He had season-ending surgery July 30.