September 03, 2011
In a not-so-unusual move, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson announced on Friday that one of his starting pitchers would be shut down after making one final start Sunday.
What was unusual, however, is who Johnson and the Nationals plan on shutting down, and what they expect of him the rest of the season. Rather than protecting a young arm — as they've already done with Jordan Zimmerman this season, and like the Seattle Mariners have already announced they intend to do with Micheal Pineda later this month — the Nats will remove veteran Livan Hernandez(notes) from the starting rotation.
But the Nats don't expect Livan to just sit there for the rest of the season.
As Bill Ladson first reported in a series of tweets Friday evening, Hernandez won't be used out of the bullpen, perhaps out of respect for his streak of 473 consecutive starts, or just due to his lack of experience in that role. However, Hernandez will be kept around to serve as a coach/mentor to the young Nationals starters. And, in addition to that, will be available to serve as a pinch hitter.
This is certainly a different approach, one that I assume a number of players in Hernandez's position would not respond favorably to. However, when informed of his new assignments, Ladson reports that Hernandez was very understanding and receptive:
"It's part of the game," Hernandez said. "I want to help the young guys. I don' know what's going to happen next year. I want to try to come back and be a long reliever only for this team. I will not do it for anybody else. Let's see the situation. I'll give it a chance. I explained how much I want [to be in Washington] to [general manager Mike] Rizzo. Let's see what happens."
Hernandez recalled his early days with the Florida Marlins and his relationship with veteran teammate Alex Fernandez, who took him under his wing to educate him not only about pitching, but how to handle himself as a professional.
If Hernandez's handling of the situation is any indication, Fernandez was a great tutor, and the young Nats would be well served to pay attention to what Livan has to say.
"The most important thing is be a professional and try to do what you have to do to help anybody," Hernandez said. "I received help when I came into the league. Baseball is not easy. You have to give the young guys a chance and pitch in this level. This level is not easy. They have to see how they look."
As for his role as a pinch hitter, Livan has only done so 14 times in 16 seasons. He collected his lone career pinch-hit in a previous Washington stint back in 2006. In 2011, Hernandez is 10-for-44 with a double and seven RBI. Not bad. I suppose that could help bolster the bench in September, but with the expanded rosters, it's unlikely his name will be called in many meaningful situations.
But just in case it is, we'll be watching.