"Nonchalant" is an adjective often used to describe Livan Hernandez's demeanor on the mound whether he's pitching or fielding, reacting to a big play or making one. In Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson's post game press conference following Hernandez's final start of the 2011 season yesterday, the Nats' skipper said the 36-year-old, 16-year veteran was popular with his team and the Nats' fanbase because, "He's just a gamer. He's a professional, good athlete, makes everything kind of look easy, where [for] most of us it's hard, fielding his position [he's] almost non-chalant. He's just really good at it and he really knows how to pitch."
Hernandez, who completed his seventh season in the organization yesterday (two w/ Montreal), told reporters earlier this week that he'd be willing to pitch in a long relief role for the Nationals next year, and said Sunday that he'd told Washington what he'd pitch for and was now waiting for a response. After waiting until late February to sign the veteran starter before the 2010 season, the Nats gave Hernandez an extension in August of the year, with D.C. GM Mike Rizzo telling reporters, including Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore who quoted Rizzo in a Nationals Journal post entitled, "Livan Hernandez gets contract extension", that it was something the right-hander, "... earned and deserved and [Hernandez] could be a guy for us through the winter that we know he's part of the ballclub, and we know every fifth day we'll be handing him the ball and have a quality start."
Hernandez took the ball and made every start this season, continuing a streak of 474 consecutive starts which stretch back to his rookie year in 1996 when he made his one and only relief appearance in the majors. Will Hernandez make his 475th consecutive start elsewhere? Will he make his second career relief appearance in a Nationals uniform? Davey Johnson told reporters that was a decision for the front office to make.
"That's a decision that's made down the road," Johnson said, "I know Mike Rizzo really admires him and appreciates what he's done here over the years. An unbelievable career. What we're trying to do is build something here and it's the time of the year when we have to look at some young arms, some guys have earned the right to come up here and compete and show what they've got."
24-year-old lefty Tom Milone made his debut on Saturday. Stephen Strasburg returns tomorrow. Brad Peacock is expected to pitch in relief of Strasburg, who's on an innings limit, in what will be the 23-year-old Peacock's MLB debut. Ross Detwiler's being given a chance to show what he can do five seasons after he was the Nats' 1st Round selection in 2007. "It's a very highly competitive business," the National's manager continued yesterday, "You want to answer some questions when you have the opportunity. It's kind of the same with Pudge [Rodriguez] and Livo, good players, you know what they are but you don't know what a young player is until you give them the opportunity.
Both Rodriguez and Hernandez have been outspoken about their desire to return to the Nationals next season. With Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores behind the plate and catchers like Derek Norris behind them, and with the Nats' young pitching prospects knocking at the door all season and now walking through the door to make their MLB debuts, the contributions the veterans have made in the past can't be overlooked, but it's time to see what the future holds for the young players who'll build on what the vets have built.