Hernandez strong in Nats’ 3-1 win over D-backs
PHOENIX (AP)—Three hours before the first pitch, Arizona interim manager Kirk Gibson gushed about Livan Hernandez’s(notes) ability to navigate through a game, to make the best use of his unique mix of pitches.
Gibson and the Diamondbacks had watched it firsthand two years earlier, when they won the NL West with the right-hander. Seeing it from the other side wasn’t quite as much fun.
Relying on his syrupy curveball and hitting his spots with every pitch, Hernandez baffled Arizona’s hitters into the eighth inning to lift the Washington Nationals to a 3-1 win over the Diamondbacks on Monday night.
“He did a great job,” Gibson said. “He walked one guy, moved the ball around, changed speeds and we never really got him into any trouble until the last inning.”
Ivan Rodriguez(notes) became the fifth catcher to hit 300 homers with a solo shot off Rodrigo Lopez(notes) (5-10) in the second, and Adam Dunn(notes) hit another into the swimming pool in right-center the next inning. Hernandez (8-7) didn’t need much more than that, keeping the Diamondbacks off balance with a curveball that barely cracked 60 mph at times.
Still buried at the bottom of the NL East, Washington is starting to show signs of life, backing up a 4-2 homestand against Philadelphia and Atlanta—the top two teams in the division—with a taught win over a good-hitting team in a high-scoring ballpark.
“We had a good homestand, relatively speaking, and tonight was a good way to start a road trip,” Nationals manager Jim Riggelman said.
A barely-audible crowd of 16,793—129 more than the smallest ever at Chase Field—came out to watch two last-place teams, but still managed to affect the game. A small group of fans in left field caused a delay of about a minute in the first inning by draping a sign addressed to Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick over the wall to protest the new immigration law in Arizona.
Plate umpire Angel Hernandez halted the game when he saw the large sign that read: “Mr. Kendrick … Stop the hate. Say no to SB1070.” Nationals left fielder Josh Willingham(notes) tried to get the fans to take the sign down before a security guard came out and pulled it off the wall.
On the field, Hernandez baffled the Diamondbacks with his hard-breaking, sometimes-softserve array of pitches. He topped out in the mid-80s with his fastball and had Arizona’s hitters out on their front foot with extensive use of his barely-pop-a-bubble curveball.
Hernandez gave up a run on Gerardo Parra’s(notes) groundout in the second inning and retired 18 of the next 19 hitters before being lifted with two on and one out in the eighth. He allowed one run on five hits with five strikeouts.
“He was outstanding,” Riggelman said. “When he’s throwing like that, hitting his spots like that, keeping hitters off balance, it’s one of those nights where he can go nine. This ballpark, the way the ball flies out of here and the power they have in that lineup, I just didn’t want a good night ruined by one ball getting in the air.”
Homers have hurt Lopez all season and walks were the problem his last start, so of course that’s how the Nationals beat him. The first inning was the walks; Willingham followed two with a run-scoring single for the first run.
Rodriguez then led off the second inning with his second homer of the season — and first since May—to join Mike Piazza, Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra in the all-catchers 300 club.
“As a catcher, it takes a lot to play the position and to be able to get it done is a nice feeling,” Rodriguez said. “It took me a long time to hit a home run, but finally I got a good pitch and I was able to hit it out.
Another solo long ball came in the third inning, this one a really long one by Dunn that careened off the wall behind the pool and bounced back into the water, sending the swimmers scrambling.
Lopez didn’t have any more walks or homers over the next four innings, but it didn’t matter the way Hernandez was pitching. Lopez gave up three runs on seven hits in seven innings and has allowed an NL-worst 27 homers.
“I was leaving the ball up and they were taking advantage,” he said.
Notes: Nationals rookie RHP Stephen Strasburg(notes) threw long toss for the second straight day without any problems. He’s been on the DL since July 22 with shoulder stiffness. … Washington has won seven of its past nine games against the Diamondbacks. … Arizona’s Justin Upton(notes) was 0 for 4 to end a 17-game hitting streak.