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4 Washington Nationals
Bill Syken
April 03, 2006
D.C.'s club will go only as far as its two workhorses carry it
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April 03, 2006

4 Washington Nationals

D.C.'s club will go only as far as its two workhorses carry it

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RH Livan Hernandez 58 15 10 147 1.43 3.98
RH John Patterson 71 9 7 185 1.19 3.13
RH Pedro Astacio [New acquisition] 188 6 10 78 1.34 4.69
RH Ramon Ortiz [New acquisition] 149 9 11 96 1.50 5.36
RH Tony Armas 141 7 7 59 1.52 4.97

Livan Hernandez and John Patterson, the pillars of the Nationals' pitching staff, are coming off very different seasons. For Hernandez 2005 was a test of how much pain he could endure. Patterson, on the other hand, had his first taste of the good life. Still, the two were similarly effective, and they must continue their winning ways if Washington is to have any hope of pulling off a surprise in the East.

The Nationals come into the season with questions aplenty. Will newcomer Alfonso Soriano fully accept his move to the outfield from second base? How dependable will second baseman Jose Vidro be following knee and ankle injuries that limited him to 87 games in '05? Which of the five pitchers competing for back-end rotation spots will overcome injuries or ineffectiveness?

While such issues are sorted out, Hernandez, 31, and Patterson, 28, will have to hold the team together. "If those two don't give us innings, more of the load falls on players who may not be capable of carrying that load," says manager Frank Robinson. "It's very important they set the tone of leadership and give the bullpen a break."

A true workhorse, Hernandez threw 246 1/3 innings in '05, despite a bum right knee that first began bothering him in May. With the Nationals off to a fast start--they were atop the division through much of June and July-- Hernandez played through the pain, having the knee drained periodically to avoid surgery that likely would have ended his season. Through Sept. 5 Hernandez was 15-6, but with the Nationals' playoffs hopes fading and his knee giving out, he lost his last four decisions. Immediately after the season Hernandez underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

His rehab prevented him from following his usual off-season rigorous regimen of kickboxing and spinning classes, but Hernandez says he's ready for 2006: "My arm feels good, and the knee feels good too. The pitching is no problem. The little bit of [concern] is that when I'm running, I have to be careful because if I twist it I may have a problem again."

Patterson, in contrast, was feeling healthy for the first time in years in '05, and he finally began to live up to the promise that made him the fifth overall selection in the 1996 draft. After signing a $6 million contract with the Diamondbacks, the 6'5" Texan struggled in the minors. He missed most of the 2000 season after having reconstructive surgery on his right elbow and sat out much of '01 with continued elbow inflammation before making his major league debut midway through the '02 season. His first extended opportunity came in '04, after he was traded to the Nationals, but a groin injury caused him to miss 10 weeks and limited his effectiveness on the mound. He finished 4-7 with a 5.03 ERA. "Every time something good would happen for me I'd get hurt," says Patterson. "It was starting to wear on me."

But while playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic after the 2004 season Patterson felt his mechanics, which had been tinkered with over the years, finally begin to fall into place. He rode that groove into '05. "My first couple of games last year I finally felt like myself," says Patterson. He finished ninth in the league in ERA (3.13) and was 9-7 despite some anemic run support. (He didn't get a win in seven starts in which he gave up either one or zero runs.) "It did get frustrating at times, but I was pitching well, and that was what I could control," he says. "So that's what I focused on."

Patterson threw 198 1/3 innings for Washington in 2005, plus another 50 or so in winter ball before the season. The workload took its toll--in September he went 1-3 with a 5.63 ERA. So this winter he relaxed. He vacationed in Maui, hunted deer in Texas and didn't touch a baseball for almost two months.

Since age 11 Patterson has set goals for himself at the start of each baseball season. This year, he says, he wants to be effective throwing even more innings than last year. "If you go 200 innings, everything else falls into line," he says. That's what the Nationals are counting on from both of their workhorses. --B.S.

Livan Hernandez has led the NL in innings pitched for three straight years. Only Greg Maddux and Robin Roberts (five years each) and Grover Cleveland Alexander (four) had longer streaks.

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