Livan Hernandez makes his return to Nationals
At high noon on Friday, toward the end of the Washington Nationals' first full-squad workout, Livan Hernandez opened the gates to a small bullpen area, performed a few quick balance drills, and promptly took the mound for the first time in 147 days. Spring pitching instructor Spin Williams stood directly behind Hernandez, and General Manager Mike Rizzo watched from just beyond the bullpen fence. They observed a 35-year-old pitcher unbothered by his layoff from pitching, undeterred by the job competition facing him, and entirely at ease with his new (but familiar) surroundings.
"Always I wanted to come back," Hernandez said after doing just that. "I wait and wait and, so, you know, the times come. I sign. That's it. I'm here now."
On Wednesday Hernandez signed an incentive-heavy minor league deal with Washington, rejoining the franchise for which he's pitched twice before. On Friday, Hernandez awoke at 4 a.m. in Miami, drove to Viera, and reentered the clubhouse where his old uniform (No. 61) and old teammates awaited. Though Hernandez didn't pitch off a mound even once during the offseason, he sounded secure about his ability to recover his form.
"In a couple more days," Hernandez said, "I'll be 100-percent."
Hernandez is a latecomer to the Nationals' competition for starting rotation spots -- they need to fill at least two openings on the staff -- but he's hardly a longshot. Even with a fastball in the mid-80s, even with a 2009 ERA of 5.44, Hernandez possesses a durability and experienced unmatched by the other, younger starters jockeying for jobs.
"Livo brings us an experienced guy that we know can eat up innings," Rizzo said. "You know exactly what you're getting with this acquisition. He's a good inventory guy for us. He's a veteran guy. We know what type of pitcher he's going to be. We know him in the clubhouse. So we're really comfortable with that, and he gives us some security."
Back at his locker after his first workout, Hernandez said he never worried during the offseason about not finding a job. And he's not worried now about fighting for a roster spot.
"I'm happy [I signed] here," Hernandez said. "So I'm here, back to Washington, and it's going to be really nice... I'll go do my best, and I know I have a chance to win a lot of games this year and help the team."
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