When Livan Hernandez pitched with San Francisco, he'd give pitching coach Dave Righetti a hard time when he was pulled from a game after hitting a certain pitch count.
"I threw 180 pitches a game sometimes in Cuba," he'd say. "I'm barely warmed up."
This afternoon's performance against Milwaukee - a complete game, 112-pitch 4-hit 8-nothing shutout - gives Livo a 2-0 record and an ERA of zero. Sixteen innings, no earned runs. Not bad.
It's plain from seeing him in Viera last month that he's lighter than a year ago. I don't know how much, exactly, but I'm guessing he's no longer wearing a size 58 jersey. The more svelte Hernandez has less strain on his knees and hips, and his stamina - never really in question - is what it was when he got to town in 2005.
He's a master of changing speeds on the velocity he has left. You're not going to be real impressed with an 84-87 mph fastball, but he never throws it to the same spot twice, or at quite the same speed.
A friend of mine who's been a big league scout for about 40 years puts it succinctly: "He knows how to pitch,"
Professional baseball is full of guys who have great velocity but have problems spotting their pitches. It's true that you can't really teach speed, but Hernandez is proof positive that the key to pitching successfully is focusing on getting them out, rather than striking them out. Re-signing him for 2010 was a no-lose proposition for GM Mike Rizzo and the Nationals.
The Washington pitching staff will goes through a few more transitions between now and October. The expected promotions of Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, plus the re-activations of Jordan Zimmermann and Chien-Ming Wang have great potential on paper, but the game's played on the field.
Still, Livan Hernandez' April success is an unexpected pleasure, and giving the bullpen a complete day off today can only help as the homestand continues.