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Posted at 3:55 PM ET, 02/15/2011

For Nationals starters, its Livan Hernandez and the rest

By Adam Kilgore

livo pitch.jpg

At this time last spring, all 30 teams had decided Livan Hernandez was not worth a major league contract. He was still waiting by the phone in late February, when the Nationals decided to take a shot. Hernandez agreed to a minor league deal.

One year later, Manager Jim Riggleman said today, Hernandez is the surest thing in the Nationals' starting rotation. After Hernandez led qualifying Nationals starters in wins (10), innings (212 2/3), ERA (3.66) and strikeouts (114) in 2010, Riggleman all but proclaimed Hernandez the team's 2011 opening day starter.

"Unless something unforeseen happens, Livan has earned it," Riggleman said this afternoon after making his first appearance in Viera. "Not only has he had a good year, but he's also a composed, veteran guy. The whole atmosphere of opening day, all the excitement and that, I think he's able to slow the game down and pitch in an Opening Day situation and not be overwhelmed by it. He would likely be our first guy."

Though the rest of the Nationals rotation is not quite as settled, it seems a given that John Lannan, Jordan Zimmerman and Jason Marquis will take three other places in the rotation and Tom Gorzelanny will likely claim the fifth.

While Hernandez is, for now, the clear opening day choice, the Nationals do not possess a true No. 1 starter, the kind of pitcher General Manager Mike Rizzo hoped to acquire this offseason. Riggleman, though, feels an improved defense, a strong bullpen and starting pitching depth will make up for their lack of an ace.

"We'll just have to do it a different way," Riggleman said. "We feel like, I think we've got a lot of guys who are kind of like No. 3 starters. That's OK, because there's a lot of them. Everybody would like to have a No. 1 starter, a No. 2 starter. But I guess what I'm saying is, the glass is half full. There's enough depth in our starters."

At least "seven or eight" starters will vie for spots in the rotation, Riggleman said, and those surely include Ross Detwiler and Yunesky Maya. At some point in the year, the Nationals will need another starter to replace Zimmermann.

Zimmermann is entering his first full season following Tommy John surgery, and his highest innings total as a professional is 134, all of which came in the minors in 2008. The Nationals, then, will restrict Zimmermann to a set number of innings this year, and they will be careful not to push him past seven innings in one start.

"I would say, I really want to talk with [pitching coach] Steve McCatty and [pitching coordinator] Spin Williams before I put a hard-and-fast number on it," Riggleman said. "But there will be a number there. There will be something we won't exceed. But whether it's 150 or 175 or something, we don't know yet."

By Adam Kilgore  | February 15, 2011; 3:55 PM ET
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Next: Jim Riggleman wants the top of the Nationals order on the offensive


I still don't understand why it's more important to put a cap on the total number of innings and not the total number of pitches for a young SP (or a SP coming off an injury-season).

If JZ is cruising along and finishes the 7th inning at only 80 pitches, what's the harm with letting him go out for the 8th? We all know that Riggs would keep him on the mound if it's the 5th inning and he's at 90 pitches (he's done that before and will most definitely do it again).

Posted by: erocks33 | February 15, 2011 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Orioles rotation is lightyears better than the Natinals.

At least 3 O's pitchers will be in the hunt for the Cy Young.

Meanwhile, 4 or 5 Natinal pitchers will all be in the hunt for a 15-20 loss season, per pitcher.

Oh snap!

Posted by: P00PY_MCP00P | February 15, 2011 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Have fun fighting with the Yankees and Red Sox forever.

Poor D'Ohrioles.

Posted by: BrokenClipboard | February 15, 2011 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Looking forward to Livo on opening day. At least the philly trash wont be there this year. Last year was crushing with all that garbage. Booing Zim when he got his acknowledgments for his stellar season. Its getting warmer...

Posted by: Stu27 | February 15, 2011 4:44 PM | Report abuse

At least 3 O's pitchers will be in the hunt for the Cy Young.
Lets see here.
Guthrie losing record last 3 seasons.
Matusz, career 15 - 14 4.37 ERA.
I got no idea who your third is. All going against Sabathia / Hughes / Burnett / Beckett / Lester / Lackey / Price. . .

Orioles headed for 14th losing season. Nats outdraw orioles by even more than last year.

Posted by: brianbu | February 15, 2011 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Solid logic, brianbu, and I can't argue with it. Nice job, buddy.

And I should also point out that I used lightyears as a measure of talent, when its clearly a measure of distance. So who the heck knows what I'm actually trying to say.

The lesson is, as always, I am a moron.


Posted by: P00PY__MCP00P | February 15, 2011 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Livan Hernandez is a nice pitcher right now, but there will not be one club in MLB starting a guy on Opening Day that they'd trade for Livan. Not one.

Rizzo still has time, and still has a lot of money; he needs to add something better than Livan Hernandez as a SP for this club. Some notion that the ship has sailed on adding a starter is premature. I hope they take on a salary/move some pieces and get a guy that passes for a 1-2 starter in MLB. If they do that, the club COULD surprise and be in the thick of it in 2011. If they don't, it is very likely yet another lost season for the Nats.

Posted by: dfh21 | February 15, 2011 6:16 PM | Report abuse

dfh: There are 10, maybe 12 true '#1-Ace' SP's in all of MLB. Every other team that doesn't hold one has to line up their rotation as best they can. Livo currently represents the best overall arm the Nationals possess that can control an opposing lineup.

Maybe someone falls into our laps during spring training, maybe someone jumps out of the pack; But for now, the answer to "Who's your Opening Day pitcher" is Livo.

Posted by: BinM | February 15, 2011 7:59 PM | Report abuse

Very depressing news. Livo as # our 1?

Whoever is responsible for assembling this sorry group of pitchers wearing Nats uniforms should be fired. Or was it all JimBo's doing?

This is shaping up as (another) lost season, and it hasn't even gotten underway.

Posted by: JohnRDC | February 15, 2011 11:08 PM | Report abuse

John, I'm not as pessimistic about our pitching. With Marquis back, we have 7 or 8 guys who are capable of pitching a lot of quality innings. The point of this article was that we are lacking an established ace (although it should be mentioned, we DO have one, he's just missing the season with Tommy John surgery). But I think from the bunch of pitchers who have been grown and/or assembled, Riggs should be able to cull down to five good if not great ones. I see a lot of Quality Starts happening for the Nats in 2011.

I'm more concerned about the bats and why we let Dunn and Willingham go with very little value back. It's disappointing.

Posted by: jksesq1 | February 16, 2011 6:17 AM | Report abuse

IMAGINE!! Riggleman all excited because he has an ace number 1 starter who won 10 games!!!! Then, Kilgore, there's the rest?? This just goes to show you how far standards have dropped. I am a fan. I think the Nats will do well. But, let's be realistic when it comes to a quality pitching staff. They may be fair with what they have to work with, but gee, call a spade a spade.

Posted by: Pete433 | February 16, 2011 6:32 AM | Report abuse

we need the same guys in the rotation and to eat innings. last year we kept flip flopping after our great start. if we can get 150 innings from each of our starters we are in good shape

Posted by: skinfan2k | February 16, 2011 6:59 AM | Report abuse

Patience, please. We've good to get better before we get good. This year is about improvement, not being in the thick of it. In 2012 or 2013, we'll have our No. 1 and No. 2 starters.

Posted by: shanks1 | February 16, 2011 7:58 AM | Report abuse

It seems a bit odd to name our Opening Day starter at this early juncture. I mean, the pitchers and catchers just reported yesterday, and the first exhibition game isn't for another two weeks.

Whatever happened to judging actual performance?

Now, I like Livo as much as the next guy, but the day will come when he runs out of gas, even the tiny amount of unleaded regular it takes to power his wily stuff. I hope his tank doesn't run empty this year, but with each year that passes it comes a year closer.

It is very possible that Zimmermann could come out blazing and just blow away everyone he faces. Jason Marquis could return to all-star form. Wang could be the most pleasant surprise in the Majors this year. Lannan could return to his sparkling under-3.00 ERA form again. Detwiler might become the pitcher we thought we'd drafted. Maya might be the miracle stud hombre he looked like a few years ago.

Hey, it could happen, right? At least one of those things probably will happen (with Zimmermann being the most likely). And then again, Livo could be the 0.00 ERA guy he was at the start, and again toward the end, of last year. Who knows.

When you've been a Washington baseball fan as long as I have you know that Spring is the time for optimism, and that you'd better take advantage of it while you can.

Posted by: FergusonFoont | February 16, 2011 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Gorzelanny can be a significant addition to the rotation if the coaching staff spends the time to keep him working at the right pace. The Pirates coaches tried to slow him down and disrupted his natural rhythm. He's a decent left-hander who can give the team double digit wins if they use him properly.

Posted by: jquyle1 | February 19, 2011 7:17 PM | Report abuse

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