At 35, Hernandez continues to excel after struggling last year.
“I’ve thrown four good games,” he said. “Let’s see what happens. It’s early. I feel very good.”
So do the Nationals, who at 11-10 matched their best start since 2005. Ian Desmond(notes) delivered a pair of RBI singles—one during a two-run first and one in the eighth that made it 3-1—and Cristian Guzman(notes) added a run-scoring triple to back another dominant outing by Hernandez (3-1).
“Livo has kind of set the tone for us,” manager Jim Riggleman said.
The way he struggled a year ago, who would have predicted that?
Hernandez did not allow an extra-base hit while outpitching Tom Gorzelanny(notes) (0-3) and continued to put aside last season’s misery, when he was 9-12 with a 5.44 ERA for the Mets and Nationals. This year? He has allowed three runs in four starts, and he kept the Cubs off balance with a heavy sinker.
Tyler Clippard(notes) came in and walked Kosuke Fukudome(notes) on a 3-2 pitch before Derrek Lee(notes) popped out. Marlon Byrd(notes) then grounded to second on a 3-1 count, putting runners on second and third, and Aramis Ramirez(notes) bounced to first to end the inning.
Matt Capps(notes) allowed a two-out single to Geovany Soto(notes) in the ninth before striking out pinch-hitter Tyler Colvin(notes) for his major league leading ninth save in as many chances. That snapped the Cubs’ four-game win streak.
Gorzelanny lasted seven innings in his longest start this season, allowing two runs and five hits. He settled down after a rough first but is still seeking his first win even though his ERA is just 2.45.
With the gametime temperature at 43, the Nationals quickly warmed up and took the lead.
They got triples from two of the first three batters, with Nyjer Morgan(notes) driving one to left-center leading off and scoring on a single by Desmond. Guzman then knocked a low slider over center fielder Byrd’s head for another triple that made it 2-0.
“You learn how to fight your way out and that’s what I had to do,” Gorzelanny said. “I knew I could get out of it. To get out of there with two runs, I felt, was a good thing.”
The Cubs cut it to 2-1 in the second on back-to-back singles by Alfonso Soriano(notes) and Mike Fontenot(notes) that put runners on first and third before Soto’s RBI forceout. But Chicago got little else against Hernandez, whose ERA is at 0.87.
“He just continues to trust his stuff,” Riggleman said. “He gets his breaking ball down, throws his changeup and off-speed stuff anytime he wants.”
The Nationals backed him with several highlight reel defensive plays on Tuesday, robbing Lee three times.
Third baseman Alberto Gonzalez(notes) dove to his left to snag Lee’s liner in the first. In the third, it was Desmond taking away a hit when the shortstop made a diving stop on a grounder toward the middle and, from his stomach, flipped to Guzman at second to force Fukudome. Then, in the sixth, Josh Willingham(notes) reached up for a nice running catch on Lee’s liner to left.
“They made some good plays, but you know, you’ve got to hit the ball better, find some holes,” Lee said.
NOTES: Nationals C Ivan Rodriguez(notes) was back in the lineup after being scratched Monday because of lower back tightness. … Ryan Zimmerman(notes) was out of the lineup for the sixth straight game with right hamstring soreness and probably won’t start until this weekend’s series at Florida. … New Bears running back Chester Taylor threw out the ceremonial first pitch and delivered an off-key rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning that might have made Harry Caray cringe.