MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—As the hits kept piling up on him at a rate not seen in nearly 30 years, a frustrated Livan Hernandez simply couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
So the savvy veteran went to work, throwing more than 100 pitches in a bullpen session that lasted more than an hour on Saturday, trying to fix his mechanics and regain his location.
For one start, at least, it seemed to work.
Hernandez finally found a way to keep opposing hitters off base, earning his first victory in over a month in Minnesota’s 2-1 win over the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.
“I was just trying to get out of the struggling situations,” Hernandez said of the marathon bullpen session, which was followed by a shorter one on Sunday. “Now everything’s working perfect.”
Hernandez (7-4), who is on pace to become the first pitcher since Atlanta’s Phil Niekro in 1979 to allow more than 300 hits in a season, allowed one run on just five hits in seven efficient innings. He induced three double plays and needed just 77 pitches for his first win since May 12.
Hernandez said he slowed his velocity down, concentrated more on location and got good action on his sinker and slider.
“That is the way I’ve got to pitch,” he said. “I have to trust my sinker. I work every day and try to get better and better.”
John Lannan (4-8) posted his fourth straight quality start for Washington, allowing five hits and striking out three in seven innings. But his punchless offense couldn’t make up for the one mistake he made to Morneau in the sixth.
Lannan is 0-3 in his last four starts despite allowing just eight total runs in that span.
Hernandez started the season a surprising 6-1, but spent the last 15 days getting hammered all over the ballpark. He was 0-3 with a 9.38 ERA in his previous six starts—giving up a staggering 64 hits in 31 2-3 innings—and has allowed 143 hits in 16 starts this season (8.9 hits per start).
“You’re getting beat up and he was struggling trying to figure out what to do to make it better,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He had some good work in between and figured a a few things out and he took it out between the lines.”
The Cuban right-hander was much sharper on Tuesday night, locating like he did early in the season and taking advantage of an aggressive Nationals battery. He allowed the lone run in the third on an infield single by former Twin Cristian Guzman that scored Paul Lo Duca, the only Nationals hitter to reach second base.
“We were a little bit over aggressive against Livan and he preys on hitters’ aggressiveness,” Nationals manager Manny Acta said. “We have a very young team and he just took advantage of that.”
The lanky lefty Lannan threw first-pitch strikes most of the night and didn’t allow a hit in the first 3 1-3 innings, frustrating the impatient Twins with pinpoint location.
Mauer zipped a one-out single back through Lannan’s legs in the sixth that left the rookie wondering if he still had a kneecap. He hung a curveball on the next pitch to Morneau, who hit it an estimated 421 feet into the upper deck in left field to give the Twins a 2-1 lead.
“It was a curveball up and he hit it a long way,” Lannan said. “It was just a mistake that wound up costing us.”
Nationals first baseman Dmitri Young and his little brother, Twins left fielder Delmon Young, faced each other in a regular season game for the first time in their professional careers. They combined to go 0-for-6.
The game lasted just 1 hour, 59 minutes, one game after Gardenhire was fined an undisclosed amount by the league for not adhering to the pace of the game rules in a loss to Milwaukee on Sunday.
A question about the brisk pace brought a wry grin to face of Gardenhire, who was ejected Sunday after arguing the issue with home plate umpire Brian Runge.
“I’m not getting into that,” Gardenhire said. “I’ve been in enough trouble. I’m not going any deeper. It’s not good to cover your own legs up with sand.”
Nationals manager Manny Acta is good friends with Mets GM Omar Minaya, but brushed aside questions about possibly succeeding the fired Willie Randolph in New York. “It’s a friendship, and people are blowing things out of proportion,” Acta said. “I’m a National. I’m very happy here, and I’ll be here as long as the Lerners and Stan Kasten want me to be here.” … Twins INF Nick Punto (hamstring) will play three straight games for Class-A Fort Myers on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. If all goes well, Punto could join the team on Tuesday in San Diego.