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
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?
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."
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.
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."
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."
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."
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.
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.