Another solid year by the veteran right-hander plus an injury to the team’s prized rookie pitcher has ended any doubt about where Hernandez will begin 2011.
Making his first start since signing an extension with the club, Hernandez takes the ball Friday at PNC Park where the Nationals open a three-game series against the major league-worst Pittsburgh Pirates.
Signed as a free agent last August after getting released by the New York Mets, Hernandez went 2-4 with a 5.36 ERA in eight starts for the Nationals in 2009.
Looking to continue a major league career that started in 1996, Hernandez (9-9, 3.49 ERA) signed a minor league deal with Washington on Feb. 24. The 35-year-old right-hander has parlayed that spring training invite into another good season and a one-year deal for 2011.
With rookie right-hander Stephen Strasburg(notes) possibly out all of next season following Tommy John surgery scheduled for Friday, the decision to re-sign the club’s all-time leader in wins (35), starts (94), innings pitched (617) and strikeouts (354) was an easy one.
“(Hernandez) can be a guy for us, through the winter, that we know he’s part of the ballclub and we know every fifth day we’ll be handing him the ball and having a quality start,” general manager Mike Rizzo said after announcing the deal Sunday.
Hernandez, though, has allowed 12 runs and 18 hits over 10 2-3 innings in his last two starts, and he’s 1-4 with a 6.66 ERA in nine outings in Pittsburgh. Trying to reach double-digit wins for the 11th time, Hernandez will look to help Washington (57-77) improve its 23-46 road record.
The only NL team with a worse one is the Pirates at 14-53, and they capped a 1-5 trip Wednesday with a 5-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs. Pittsburgh (44-89) has clinched an 18th consecutive losing season but is looking to close on a positive note.
“I think it would be easy to let yourself slip mentally and physically into that place where when things go bad you kind of crawl into a hole,” second baseman Neil Walker(notes) told the majors’ official website. “… A lot more times than not, grinding it out is a part of our nature.”
Walker has hit four of his nine homers this season in the last five games, and he is batting .425 with 14 RBIs during a nine-game hitting streak. He went 4 for 13 as the Pirates were swept at Washington from June 8-10.
Zach Duke(notes) (6-12, 5.17) lost the finale of that series, giving up three runs in five innings of a 4-2 defeat, and faces the Nationals again Friday. The left-hander is looking to bounce back from a subpar effort in Saturday’s 8-7, 11-inning loss at Milwaukee.
“My location wasn’t very good and my stuff wasn’t all that great,” Duke told the Pirates’ official website after yielding four runs and nine hits in 5 1-3 innings.
Washington has won five in a row against Pittsburgh after dropping seven of eight.