After his seven-inning, two-run performance against the Braves last night - during which he whipped up another batch of 86-mph fastballs and looping curveballs on the edge of the plate - Livan Hernandez sounded like a man who knows what might be in his future.
It should be pretty easy for the 36-year-old to see what's coming; the Nationals will bring left-hander Tom Milone to the majors on Saturday for his debut, and prospect Brad Peacock could be on his way to the majors soon, too. And on Tuesday, Stephen Strasburg will make his first start of the season, giving the Nationals a full complement of pitchers (Strasburg, Milone, Peacock, Ross Detwiler and Chien-Ming Wang) they'd like to evaluate before the end of the season.
They'll be able to do some of that work by bringing starters in out of the bullpen - manager Davey Johnson told reporters in Atlanta on Tuesday that he might use Peacock out of the bullpen next Tuesday after Strasburg's start, which is only expected to last about four innings. But the point remains the same; the Nationals have plenty of young pitchers on the way, and those players are probably a bigger part of the Nationals' future than Hernandez is.
But could there be a spot for the veteran on the Nationals' roster next year? Hernandez seemed to think so. He said after his win on Tuesday that he would be open to re-signing with the team and pitching in long relief next year. Hernandez said he has told general manager Mike Rizzo and pitching coach Steve McCatty he would be open to that kind of a role. He re-signed with the Nationals before last season, and got a one-year contract extension last August. Hernandez has said several times he feels comfortable in Washington, and seems to be willing to do what it takes to stay.
And if he's willing to pitch in long relief, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Nationals re-sign him. Hernandez is as durable as they come; he's never been on the disabled list, has made 473 consecutive starts and became the 12th pitcher in major league history to throw 50,000 career pitches on Tuesday night. He's pitched on short rest before, and has offered to come out of the bullpen on occasion. It would be interesting to see how he altered his elaborate warmup routine, which can involve throwing 80 pitches before a start, but Hernandez has the kind of rubber arm essential for long relief work.
It wouldn't be surprising if the Nationals tried him in that role late this season, so they can free up starts for some of their young pitchers and still keep John Lannan active. But even if they keep him in the rotation this year, Hernandez might be able to fill a different niche for the Nationals in the future.