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He's only 31, huh?

The Washington Nationals got smoked again, 11-3, by the Florida Marlins. I don't want to say Livan Hernandez pitched poorly, but his first two innings (five runs allowed) were the functional equivalent of Frederic Weiss getting posterized.

Needless to say, Hernandez suffered another first inning failure; I'd imagine Needham barely had time to flick open his trusty scoring pen before Hernandez was down 3-0 in the blink of an eye. Hernandez has been brutal in the first inning so far---so brutal, in fact . . . well, just look at this: seven innings, eighteen hits, four homers, 16.71 ERA (and only that low because three of his sixteen runs surrendered were unearned).

I would spend the next half-hour noodling an explanation for this (Maybe his balky knee is extra-stiff? Maybe his old school, just-pace-myself and not-put-out-full-exertion-unless-it's-needed approach needs a little more urgency? Maybe it's just a fluke?), but I see little point in that kind of mental exercise, because Hernandez has been uniformly awful.

In fact, twenty-nine games into the Nats' season, Hernandez is on pace for the following totals:

IP H       HR      BB      SO
248 313 56 73 157

I rounded everything up, if you care to know. Obviously, it makes little difference.

Would 386 baserunners surrendered be some sort of modern or post-World War II record? No. I thought of one candidate off the top of my head, Wilbur Wood, and he would have Livan beat. From 1972-75, Wood allowed 412 baserunners per season. Of course, Wood also average 337 innings pitched over the course of those four seasons, with a high of 376.2 in '72. (The next season, Wood pitched 359.1 innings and surrendered an astounding 472 baserunners. His ERA that year? 3.46---fifteen percent better than the park-adjusted league average.)

And I must ask: fifty-six home runs?!?!

It is still early in the season. Hernandez has made only seven starts. But there is certainly an abundance of signs indicating that Livan might be done---for the season, perhaps, or maybe as an effective starter for the rest of his career.

Or maybe it's just a particularly horrifying blip. But it's a situation that bears close scrutiny. Then again, given the $8 million due Hernandez this season and the $7 million next season, maybe it's best just to avert your eyes.

* * * *

That last piece of advice would also apply to the Nats in general. Be sure to digest your food for a full hour before watching this team in action.

The Associated Press gamer depicts Frank Robinson absolutely wigging out:

"I'm embarrassed for this team, because the fans are coming out here and being very supportive, and we're not giving them what they deserve. Not even close. And I'm surprised they're not throwing things at us," Robinson said.

"We deserve whatever they might do or say. I'm amazed they're still coming out here. I wouldn't pay to see us."

These comments, of course, came on the same day smiling dignitaries broke ground on the new ballpark. I cannot think of a better advertisement of one's product.

Actually, yes I can: not seeing your ace get toasted; not being one-hit by some anonymous rookie on a glorified Triple-A team; not sitting back as your top of the order goes 0-for-13; not throwing Joey Eischen (24.1 baserunners per nine innings) out there for yet another pounding, much less using Eischen as a pinch-hitter for Livan Hernandez, whose only asset this season has been his bat.

Hell, maybe Frank dogging his team in the press was a good thing; it's evidence someone out there still cares.

Did Robinson have a bad night, or is he losing his grip? He's a hell of a baseball guy, obviously; he's a living legend. But his managing is bordering on non-sensical of late.

Sure, any error he made tonight was likely harmless; Livan saw to that in the first two innings. Nevertheless, at what point is it time to try someone new on the top step? The question is complicated by the Nats' unique situation: They have a new owner-designee, but he's not in command yet; when he is in command, it would look (and probably be) inartful and undignified to can the Hall of Fame manager, first-thing. But, reading not too far beneath the lines, even the team's current president, Tony Tavares, seems dubious at best concerning the team's preparedness under Robinson's watch. Tavares said it before, in November, and he said it again, in a recent article:

avares said his biggest disappointment is watching how the 2006 Nationals are playing. The Nationals are 9-19, and he said the team doesn't have enough discipline on the field. Tavares feels the veteran players are too stubborn to play fundamental baseball.

"I hope, at some point, that this club finds some discipline," Tavares said. "We don't hit with men in scoring position, we don't hit behind runners, we don't hit sacrifice flies -- we just don't advance runners. We don't do the small things that it takes to win ballgames. If you trace it back, it's a discipline issue.

"On a 3-0 count, we are swinging at an inside pitch that we can't possibly hit. Why are we doing this with men on base? Or a pitcher has walked the last two batters and then the next hitter swings at the first pitch. It's not a pitch that you can drive. It's a pitcher's pitch, and you swing. Those are the things that drive you a little wacky. You have to play sound, fundamental baseball to win."

Sour grapes? (Unlike Robinson and general manager Jim Bowden, Tavares knows he is operating on borrowed time; Stan Kasten will succeed Tavares as team president approximately thirty-five seconds after the team officially changes hands.)

Maybe. And Tavares would certainly seem to have no love for certain veterans---Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen, in particular---who have complained about the expansive dimensions at RFK Stadium. Moreover, Thomas Boswell of the Post has revealed that Robinson and Tavares do not like each other; according to Boswell, it is a substantial chore just for the two to stand shoulder-to-shoulder. So perhaps Tavares does not take an objective view.

But it is a view, and it's the view of someone who by necessity follows this team very closely. It would be trite to speculate whether "the game has passed Frank Robinson by." The better question is what he accomplishes as manager of the Washington Nationals---now, and next month, and three months from now, and perhaps next year.

I'm not advocating that Robinson be fired. As noted, that's not even a realistic possibility at the moment. Plus, I like the guy---sure, he's seems a little rough and gruff around the edges, but he's earned that right. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more under-recognized legend of the game; there hasn't even been a good biography of him in thirty years. But that stuff, in itself, does not mean that he can manage---or that, if he could, he still can.

Should this team be 9-20? I don't know, given Livan's struggles, given Guillen's struggles, given the thread-bare pitching. But it's 9-20, and that's with the Soriano trade working out wonderfully so far. Does that reflect on the manager? The general manager? (Need I even ask?) Both? Everybody involved in the whole operation?

Can't go wrong with the last choice, I suppose. Livan was evidence of it tonight.