Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez was thoroughly efficient in his complete-game win.
It happened when he was traded from Florida to San Francisco in 1999. It happened when he was traded from San Francisco to Montreal in 2003. It happened when the Nationals dealt him to Arizona in 2006. And it happened pretty much the last two winters as Hernandez trolled around for jobs, unable to secure the kind of contract you'd expect for a pitcher of his stature.
One of these days, Livo should appear on one of those reality shows in which people who cheated death share their stories of survival. He'd get great ratings.
The lack of respect around baseball for Hernandez bothers the big right-hander. He doesn't quite understand it. But make no mistake: It also fuels him to do his best every time he takes the ball.
"My friends and my teammates are always like, 'You're a really good pitcher. You can pitch.'" Hernandez said. "But I've got to show some different people. I'm not dumb. I go outside every time I pitch and think about that. It helps me a lot."
That extra motivation certainly was present today as Hernandez authored the latest in a growing list of pitching gems: A complete-game, 7-1 victory over the Reds on an absolutely sweltering afternoon at Great American Ball Park. Nine innings, one run, no walks, 102 pitches and -- by Livo's estimate -- at least seven bottles of water.
"You drink more water, you sweat a little more," he said. "But I don't care. I want to drink water today because it's so hot today. I think it was 100 or something like that."
The irony, of course, is that no matter how high the humidity, nothing on a baseball field makes Livan Hernandez sweat. He's been through every scenario over the last 15 seasons. He's incapable of panic.
Just look at what he's now done this season. A 7-6 record. A 3.12 ERA. Two complete games. Thirteen starts in which he's allowed two earned runs or less over six or more innings.
As Willie Harris put it: "Livan's historical, man."
Hard to argue with that. The 35-year-old right-hander -- and yes, he insists that's his legitimate age -- is doing things no one expected four months ago. Remember, he couldn't get a job last winter. He finally settled for a minor-league deal from the Nationals after spring training had already commenced.
Club officials, especially those who hadn't seen Livo up close very much over the years, were skeptical.
"When I was coaching in places and he was on the other club, I'd watch him and I'd think something's wrong with him, because he's throwing 84 mph," Jim Riggleman said. "I thought: 'He's hurt.' Sure enough, in those games, later you'd see a 90 and he'd freeze a hitter. He's got a plan, and it's impressive."
How anyone can question Hernandez's arsenal at this stage of a remarkable career is beyond me. Sure, you laugh when his fastball is clocking in the low 80s and his curveball slings up there in the low 60s. But you know what? It works.
"He leads our team in innings pitched," Riggleman said. "He's never missed a start. He's pitched on three days' rest when needed. He's just been everything for our staff."
Where would the Nationals be without Hernandez this season? They'd have Stephen Strasburg and ... well, nothing.
The organization has been touting all year how several pitchers will be returning from injuries at some point, pitchers who should make a real difference: Jordan Zimmerman. Ross Detwiler. Chien-Ming Wang. The underlying sentiment all along has been that Hernandez would get shoved aside by one of those guys, perhaps traded.
Maybe it's time for the Nationals to start looking at Livo less as a stopgap and more as an actual piece of the puzzle. Is he the guy you want at the top of your rotation? No, that's why you've got Strasburg.
But doesn't every playoff-caliber team need a workhorse, the guy who takes the ball every five days, never breaks down and always gives you a chance to win? The Nats gave Jason Marquis two years and $15 million to serve that role. They gave Livo a minor-league deal, and they probably won't be willing to give him more than a one-year contract this winter, if that.
And Livo will accept it, because it'll probably be the best offer on the table. For whatever reason, the baseball world never believes this guy has anything left. They expect him to break down again. They expect to declare his career dead. Again.
All the while, Livan Hernandez only asks you to give him the ball every five days and let him prove you wrong yet again.
"I'm 35 years old and I've still got a lot of gas in the tank," he said. "People can talk about how 'Livo is not this,' but I don't think about that. I go outside and give my best and try to have a good year and try to come back and have the same performance as before."