30 Players in 30 Days: Livan Hernandez
Livan Hernández might have been the Nationals most valuable pitcher in 2010 and he wasn’t even on the team when Spring Training began. For the second straight year, Hernández was without a Major League contract as Spring Training drew near. With each passing day, he patiently waited for a call from the Nationals at his home in Miami–he had a few offers from other teams but he wanted to play for the Nationals. He waited, waited a little longer and waited some more until he finally got the call.
General Manager Mike Rizzo thought he needed some insurance in the starting rotation–he was right–and signed him to a Minor League contract. A refocused Hernández entered camp in shape, determined to win one of the three openings in the starting rotation. He did that and more. He won’t need to wait around this season because the Nats made sure to lock him up for another year.
He is a renaissance man that has helped reshape himself in the offseason with a rigorous conditioning program that includes playing racquetball–he won’t win a fitness contest but he will never miss a start. And it is tough to miss him pitch. He stands on the mound with a bright big smile, chomping his gum just as effortlessly as he pitches, never blowing a bubble but always showing you he has it in his mouth like a kid.
“When I go on the mound, I try to be relaxed and enjoy the game,” Hernández said. “Because if I take it too seriously, too intense, it’s not me. I try to play the game the way I am in life.”
In his first six starts he was nearly perfect. He went 4-1 with a microscopic 1.04 ERA (43.1 IP/ 5 ER). He came back to earth as the season progressed but he still finished with a respectable 10-12 record and a 3.66 ERA (211.2 IP/ 86 ER). He pitched at least six innings in 26 of his 33 starts while leading the team in innings, quality starts (22), complete games (2) and starts. Livo knows what he can and can’t do: he can’t survive in the top half of the strike zone and he can’t overpower batters but he can locate his pitches and outthink hitters with a mid-80′s fastball and a curveball that crawls and falls to the plate.
“Pitching is like real estate: location, location, location,” Hernández said. “You buy the real estate in the best location because you’ll get something good. Same with pitching, you want to locate the ball in the perfect spot.”
Endurance might not be the first word that comes to mind when you look at Livo’s far from built body–don’t expect him to run a marathon or even a few miles–but you can count on him to be on the mound every fifth day. He has never missed a start in his career and he has never been on the disabled list.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feel one day when I miss one start,” Hernández said. “Maybe I will go crazy. Maybe I will have to go to the hospital or something.”
Check this out: among active pitchers, he is fifth in wins (166), third in games started (445), second in complete games (49) and fourth in innings pitched (2,946.1). He has a 4.39 career ERA and has pitched at least 180.0 innings the last 13 seasons.
He is an avid golfer and will let you know golf is a hard game. He will then show you how easy he can make it look. His swing is effortless. He plays golf the same way he pitches: cool, calm and graceful. He makes it look so easy. Pick a spot on the driving range and he will put it there.
”If I don’t play golf for two weeks,” Hernández said, “I don’t think I’m going to be the same person.”
But Livo is always Livo, golfing or not. He is the same person win or lose, birdie or bogey, strikeout or home run. The smile is as constant as Livo toeing the rubber every fifth day.