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See ya, ¡Livan!

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Livan Hernandez was mired in a sticky top of the eighth inning last June 3; the Florida Marlins were on the verge of breaking through and doing violence to a close, tense game; and Hernandez was huffing and puffing.

What had been mild difficulty in the first two innings (three baserunners aboard, and three stranded) had turned into near disaster in the third: six batters, two runs, and a potential third Marlin score wiped out at the plate, thanks to a perfect left-to-shortstop-to-catcher exchange.

Disaster averted, Livan thereafter appeared to cruise. The next four innings resulted in only a single walk---and that to the opposing pitcher. Given Hernandez's reputation---and given the team's anemic choices off the bench to attempt to incite a two-out rally---it seemed a no-brainer that Hernandez would bat in the bottom of the seventh.

A review of the record, however, reveals that almost any other pitcher would not only be living on borrowed time, but would be out of time. You see, Livan had been anything but efficient, except for in the seventh:

INN      PIT      TOT
1       17      17
2 17 34
3 20 54
4 17 71
5 14 85
6 16 101
7 9 110

Some pitchers---albeit mainly those lacking a certain professional gravitas---might have been gone after five. Many would have exited after six. Most would have been satisfied after seven. Hey, it was 110 pitches!

Thus, one must conclude it was anything but a no-brainer that a pitcher in Livan's situation would have batted in the bottom of the seventh. Contemporary wisdom, in fact, would have called for the opposite presumption.

Livan batted. He grounded out.

And he soon found himself in trouble in the top of the eighth:

JEFF CONINE:

Pitch 1 - Ball
Pitch 2 - Ball
Pitch 3 - Ball
Pitch 4 - Called Strike
Pitch 5 - In play, out(s) recorded (fly to center)

Mind you, I said, soon, not immediately . . .

CARLOS DELGADO:

Pitch 1 - Ball
Pitch 2 - Ball
Pitch 3 - Called Strike
Pitch 4 - Called Strike
Pitch 5 - Ball
Pitch 6 - Foul
Pitch 7 - Ball

Twelve pitches in the inning, 122 for the game. Frank Robinson remained in the dugout.

MIGUEL CABRERA:

Pitch 1 - Called Strike
Pitch 2 - Ball
Pitch 3 - In play, out(s) recorded (pop to second)

JUAN EN-CAR-NAR-CION:

Pitch 1 - Foul
Pitch 2 - Ball
Pitch 3 - In play, no out recorded (double; Delgado to third)

Hernandez saw his start hanging by a thread, saved only by Delgado's plodding feet. One hundred and twenty-eight pitches. One out from eight complete frames. More than sufficient. Hand it over to Ayala, for goodness sake!

PAUL LO DUCA:

Pitch 1 - Intent Ball
Pitch 2 - Intent Ball
Pitch 3 - Intent Ball
Pitch 4 - Intent Ball

Where's the bullpen???!!!! Why the walk? Why is he staying in? There's NO margin for error now!

DAMION EASLEY:

Pitch 1 - Called Strike
Pitch 2 - Ball
Pitch 3 - Foul
Pitch 4 - Ball
Pitch 5 - Ball

Three balls???!!!! Get it over, Livan. Get out of this!

Pitch 6 - In play, out(s) recorded (pop to first; threat extinguished)

Whew! It was a yeoman's day of work, as notable for the high pitch count as for the riskiness of sticking with a flailing starting pitcher in the top of the eighth:

INN      PIT      TOT
8 28 138

Yet, Hernandez strolled out of the dugout one more time, taking the mound for the ninth inning in what was still a tie game. There are only a handful of pitchers who will start an inning after already having thrown 138 pitches, and Livan Hernandez might just be the middle finger on that hand. He's an unconventional cuss. And, on this day, he was an effective enough one, a staff-saving one. He completed the ninth frame and handed over a tie ballgame on the day after the bullpen expended four pitchers, two days after the bullpen expended four pitchers, three days after the bullpen expended five pitchers . . .

* * * *

On June 3, 2005, the Nats beat the Marlins in eleven innings. Livan Hernandez threw an even 150 pitches over the first nine. That's how I will remember Livan: a tireless horse, an easy-rocking throw-back, a guy who could pitch, generally speaking, all freakin' day. He was simply, as Distinguished Senators dubbed him back when, ¡Livan!

* * * *

¡Livan! was traded earlier today to the Arizona Diamondbacks for two guys I had literally never heard of. I suppose that might be more of an indictment of my interest in prospects than anything else; both Mock and Chico seem highly regarded, most importantly, by new assistant GM Mike Rizzo, who drafted them for the Arizona Diamondbacks. For an organization like the Nationals, who have a very dry farm system, this was a good haul. Considering ¡Livan! has far more resembled !Navil¡ this season, it was probably also a good decision. Even if---just throwing out random numbers here, but probably reasonable---one of Mock or Chico has a twenty percent chance of turning into something, it's a twenty percent improvement on the Nats' chances of having a future starter sitting around Double-A. And the trade gets Hernandez's $7 million due next year off the books.

With the preceding in mind, I have no real objection to the deal. I approve, for whatever it's worth. Yet, I'll add that it makes me curious. It has been said that this trade clears money in order to re-sign Alfonso Soriano. Okay; who knows if he'll sign, but I'd imagine saving $7 million next season would assist to that end. At the same time, re-signing Soriano would seem an indication that the team plans to make a run at some point. Undoubtedly, no matter the intention, the Nats will need pitching. If the Nats were to acquire a pitcher of Livan's value (and remember, Livan throws lots of innings, and innings have value), then they might have to turn around and ante up $7 million for that guy, anyway. And if they were to do so on the open market, then they might have to do one of those three year, $21 million deals, the terms for adequate starting pitching that have become all the rage during the past few offseasons. The Nats could also dig deeper into the free agent market and try to replace Livan's innings and production (the latter half, considering the 5.34 ERA, hopefully shouldn't be a major issue---hopefully) with two bargain fliers. I don't know; we'll see.

For now, it's true: we must trust Rizzo's judgment. At the least, the Nats traded out a $7 million pitcher for two pitching prospects and perhaps an opportunity to get another $7 million pitcher---or to re-sign Soriano, or whatever.

* * * *

But I still feel sort of empty about this transaction. Even when Livan was awful, he was nevertheless still Livan. I could really care less about Ryan Drese or Tony Armas or Pedro Astacio or Ramon Ortiz or Shawn Hill or, yes, even fellow GW alum Mike O'Connor. But Livan was different. He threw the first (official) pitch at RFK in thirty-four years, he was the workhorse, and he was ¡Livan!

To bring this full-circle, I'll quote briefly from Distinguished Senators, which has come out of hibernation to honor its patron saint:

We've got "prospects" now, and I guess that's kind of exciting. But not as exciting as having a massive, unstable Cuban either humiliating the opposition with a variety of 50-mile-an-hour pitches and an occasional non-hustle double or humiliating his own team with walks to the opposing pitcher and incomprehensible post-game tirades. It's also not as exciting as having a pitching rotation for your major league team, but hey -- youth movement and all. Whatever age ?Livan! is -- let's say 38 -- he was such a youthful 38 that we all agreed to call him 31, but I guess that's not youthful enough for the movement.

It might be a good deal. It probably is. I'll no doubt recognize it as such tomorrow. Today, I just feel a bit empty about it.