<
>

Nats' Hernandez snaps seven-start winless streak

WASHINGTON (AP) -- For the better part of 3 hours, everything
looked and felt a lot like the first half of 2005 for Livan
Hernandez and the Washington Nationals.

The burly right-hander pitched in and out of trouble. The
bullpen preserved a small lead, with closer Chad Cordero finishing
up. And the RFK Stadium stands were bouncing.

"It felt," Cordero said, "just like last year."

Exhorting his teammates in the field and on the basepaths,
Hernandez snapped a seven-start winless streak and led Washington
over the Baltimore Orioles 3-1 Sunday, giving the Nationals their
first back-to-back home victories of 2006.

It also sealed a rare series win for Washington, which has
claimed consecutive sets at RFK for the first time since June 2005.
That was back when the Nationals were winning nine home series in a
row on their way to a 50-31 start.

"Win a series and play good baseball. I like that. That was
nice," manager Frank Robinson said. "Matter of fact, it was fun,
too."

Hernandez (2-5) limited Baltimore to one run in seven innings,
despite giving up four walks and six singles. He hadn't earned a
victory since April 8 at Houston, his second start of the season;
Hernandez's last drought that long came in 1999.

"Right now, everything is going good," Hernandez said. "You
see you today ... the Livan that you know."

He gave at least a tad of the credit for Sunday's success to a
change in routine. After getting home from the ballpark Saturday
night, Hernandez decided at about 1 a.m. to head back out in search
of a movie. He saw "Poseidon," got home after 3 a.m., and so was
kind of sleepy Sunday morning.

Still, he said he knew he had "to do something different."
After all, going into Sunday, that April outing in Houston was his
only win in 14 starts dating to September. A year ago, Hernandez
won 11 consecutive decisions in one stretch and was 12-2 with a
3.32 ERA on July 1, making the NL All-Star team. But he went 3-8
the rest of the way, hampered by a buildup of fluid in his right
knee that forced him to change his mechanics and led to offseason
surgery.

"It was good to see him pitch the way he pitched today,"
Washington's Jose Vidro said. "We definitely need him."

Baltimore's Melvin Mora, 1-for-4 against Hernandez, put it
simply: "He was outstanding."

Hernandez helped himself by driving in a run with a sacrifice
bunt in the fourth, when Washington scored twice off Orioles
starter Bruce Chen (0-5). Hernandez reached up to connect with a
high pitch, and as he ran to first, he extended his left arm and
wagged his hand toward the runner on third, Marlon Byrd,
encouraging him to reach home.

On the mound, per his usual even when the going's good,
Hernandez repeatedly found himself in jams. At least two men
reached base in four of the first five innings, and the Orioles
loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth and Miguel Tejada coming
up.

The 2002 AL MVP grounded to third, where Ryan Zimmerman had a
tough time picking up the ball. He eventually grabbed it in time to
dive to the bag for a forceout; the Orioles scored on the play to
draw within 3-1.

Byrd later made a diving catch to end the inning, and Hernandez
pounded his glove with his right fist as he skipped off the mound.
The pitcher greeted Byrd with a high-five and a pat on the back.

"He's one of those off-speed pitchers that you have to be
really patient on," Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo said. "We
weren't as patient as we could've been."

Hernandez also showed his appreciation in the seventh, pumping
his right fist above his head when Zimmerman's strong throw to
first got Tejada to end the inning on Hernandez's 120th and final
pitch. Mike Stanton pitched a perfect eighth, and Cordero worked
the ninth for his fifth save.

When it ended, the winners gathered in the infield, and the
Nationals fans in the crowd of 32,152 rose for a standing ovation --
common sights last spring, but not so much during Washington's 3-11
home start this year.

"It definitely feels a lot better, man," Vidro said with a
smile. "Beer tastes a lot better."

Game notes
Nationals LF Alfonso Soriano singled twice and was
intentionally walked twice. In the first, he stole second and third
en route to scoring. ... Chen gave up three runs and seven hits
over four innings. ... Hernandez's four strikeouts included three
of Orioles 1B Jeff Conine. ... RHP Hayden Penn will be brought up
from the minors to start Tuesday for Baltimore at Seattle. RHP
Julio Manon was optioned to Triple-A Ottawa.