Nats deal Livan Hernandez to D-Backs for prospects
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Hernandez's stuff doesn't inspire awe, as he throws in the high 80s and backs up his fastball with an ordinary assortment of curveballs, sliders and changeups. His best trait may be his ability to absorb innings, and he has led the NL in that category for three years running.
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ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney is reporting that the Diamondbacks also received $2 million from the Nationals in the swap.
The 31-year-old Hernandez is 9-8 this season with a career-high 5.34 ERA in 24 starts. The right-hander has been hampered by a sore knee for most of the season but had the latest in a string of strong outings Sunday, allowing two runs over seven innings at San Diego.
"Obviously it's tough to trade a Livan," Washington general manager Jim Bowden said. "We love Livan, but we're not here to win tomorrow. We're here to win for the long term."
The Nationals received two 23-year-old prospects: right-hander Garrett Mock and left-hander Matt Chico. Both will report to Washington's Double-A affiliate, Harrisburg of the Eastern League.
The move is symptomatic of last-place Washington's desire to build for the future under new owner Ted Lerner, while Arizona was looking for pitching help in the competitive NL West. The Diamondbacks trailed first-place San Diego by two games entering Monday's play and were one game behind Cincinnati in the wild-card race.
The trade bolsters an Arizona rotation that, other than All-Star Brandon Webb, has been shaky at best. Webb missed his Saturday start with a sore elbow, and the Diamondbacks were starting Enrique Gonzalez on three days' rest Monday night against San Francisco.
"Livan at least gives us high expectations for innings and hopefully quality innings," said Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes. "And in turn, we won't be playing from behind, won't be using our bullpen quite as much as we have and when we do that, that's when we struggle."
Arizona manager Bob Melvin said he liked the deal "for a number of reasons. One, he's an innings eater which we need.
"Obviously, he's a starter which we're profiling. [The] guy's pitched on the big stage -- he's pitched top of the rotation. All those things take pressure off the bullpen," Melvin added. "It's just a great fit for us."
The Nationals tried to force Livan Hernandez through waivers so they could make a deal with any team, but Arizona blocked the move, limiting Bowden's options. But Hernandez helped his own value by winning his last four decisions, a remarkable turnaround following his early season struggles.
Livan Hernandez was traded to the Diamondbacks a week after what's commonly known as the trading deadline. Consider this sampling of veterans to be traded to contenders after the July 31 deadline in the last 20 years: Larry Walker (to the Cardinals in 2004), Roberto Alomar (2004 White Sox), Jeff Conine (2003 Marlins), Harold Baines (1999 Indians), Rickey Henderson (1997 Angels), Terry Pendleton (1996 Braves), Kevin Seitzer (1996 Indians), Brett Butler (1995 Dodgers), Jeff Reardon (1992 Braves), Baines (1990 Athletics), Willie McGee (1990 Athletics), Fred Lynn (1988 Tigers), Don Baylor (1987 Twins), Rick Reuschel (1987 Giants).
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Bowden said his phone starting ringing midway through Sunday's game, when Hernandez was pitching a five-hit shutout through six innings.
"He reached his highest trade value since I've been here," Bowden said. "You don't get two top pitching prospects if he hadn't been pitching the way he's been pitching."
Bowden said Mock and Chico instantly become the two best pitching prospects in the Nationals' talent-starved farm system. He said both should be ready for the big leagues in 2008, the year the Nationals are scheduled to move into a new ballpark.
Mock (117) and Chico (112) lead the Diamondbacks' minor league system in strikeouts this year, both pitching for Double-A Tennessee. Mock went 4-8 with a 4.95 ERA in 23 starts, while Chico was 7-2 with a 2.22 ERA in 13 starts.
"Our goal is to trade for pitching, pitching, pitching," Bowden said. "And hopefully top pitching prospects that are close to the big leagues."
Hernandez has been a workhorse since he entered the majors in 1996. He is on pace to make 30 or more starts for the ninth consecutive year and regularly surpasses 200 innings. He was the World Series MVP for the champion Florida Marlins in 1997 and later pitched for the San Francisco Giants.
He was traded to the Montreal Expos in 2003 and remained with the franchise when it moved to Washington last year. He went 50-43 with the club and was its opening day starter for four straight years.
But Hernandez had not been his old self after a buildup of fluid on his knee affected his mechanics following his outstanding start in 2005. He was 12-3 with a 3.48 ERA when he appeared in his second straight All-Star game, but he went 3-7 with a 4.58 ERA over the second half of the season.
Hernandez had surgery after the season but was still bothered by the knee in spring training this year. He took an extended break between starts over the All-Star break to give the knee some rest -- and hasn't allowed more than three runs in a start since.
Bowden said the Nationals have yet to figure a plan to replace Hernandez in the rotation the rest of the season. He said the team will purchase the contract of right-hander Chris Schroder from New Orleans on Tuesday. Schroder will be assigned to the bullpen.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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