Inside Pitch: Pitching Continues To Struggle

If Livan Hernandez doesn't figure out how to keep the opposition from scoring in the first inning, he might just find himself pitching elsewhere by the end of the summer. Plus, Frank Robinson doesn't know who to turn to in his beleaguered bullpen.

Livan Hernandez' first-inning woes continued Wednesday night in Cincinnati, when the Reds scored three runs on him before he recorded three outs. In eight starts, Hernandez has surrendered a whopping 18 earned runs in the first inning, and it's a real concern for manager Frank Robinson.

"You're certainly there wondering what's going to happen," Robinson said. "Is he going to get out of this inning? ... You get a man on base, and you think, 'I hope this isn't the start of something bad.' That's what it does. It's not a lack of confidence. It's just that you don't know what to expect. You've seen negative quite often this year, so you always have bad thoughts."

Rumors have started circulating recently that Hernandez could be traded this summer. The Mets are one possible suitor, given that GM Omar Minaya traded for the big right-hander three years ago when he was with the Expos.

Meanwhile, the bullpen hasn't provided much help.

Robinson has been searching for some reliable arms in his bullpen. So far, the Nationals manager can't come up with anyone other than closer Chad Cordero.

And that's not going to be enough to get the club through a 162-game season.

Washington's bullpen took the loss on both Wednesday and Thursday in Cincinnati. Veteran lefty Mike Stanton was the victim Wednesday night, giving up three runs in the eighth to turn a 6-6 game into a 9-6 loss.

A trio of relievers were to blame for Thursday night's 5-4 loss in 11 innings. With Cordero already having pitched the ninth and 10th, Robinson was forced to turn to Jon Rauch (who has no career saves) to start the 11th with a three-run lead. Rauch, though, gave up back-to-back singles and was immediately replaced by Felix Rodriguez. Rodriguez couldn't retire either batter he faced, so Robinson turned to veteran left Joey Eischen to try to get out of the jam.

Eischen failed miserably, serving up a game-winning, three-run homer to Ken Griffey Jr., a blast that ultimately could lead to Eischen's release by the Nationals.

NATS NOTES:

  • LHP Mike Stanton had been pitching well enough to earn a spot as the Nationals' top setup man, but he wasn't effective during the eighth inning of Wednesday's 9-6 loss to the Reds. Entering with the game tied 6-6, Stanton proceeded to give up two walks, two doubles and a sacrifice fly, resulting in three runs and the veteran's fourth loss of the year.
  • 1B Nick Johnson went 4 for 5 and connected for his ninth homer of the season Wednesday night, snapping a 5-for-37 slump and raising his batting average to .320.
  • C Brian Schneider was back on the bench Thursday after his tight hamstring acted up Wednesday night. Schneider thought he had solved the problem once he took three consecutive days off, but it now appears he'll need several more days of rest before he can return to full strength. C Matt LeCroy has been starting in Schneider's place and will continue to do so.
  • 1B/C Robert Fick, on the disabled list since undergoing right elbow surgery in early March, could be ready to be activated by the middle of next week. Fick would provide the Nationals with a much-needed bat off the bench and another option behind the plate backing up starter C Brian Schneider.
  • RHP Zach Day continues to impress in his second stint with the Nationals franchise. Day gave up one run in seven standout innings against the Reds on Thursday night, his third consecutive solid outing since being claimed off waivers from Colorado.
  • OF Alfonso Soriano was given a rare day off Thursday. Soriano has been slumping at the plate slightly over the last week, and manager Frank Robinson wanted to give him a chance to rest. 1B Daryle Ward made his first start of the season in left field in Soriano's place.
  • MEDICAL WATCH:

  • RHP Luis Ayala (sprained right elbow ligament) is out for the season after getting hurt in the World Baseball Classic.
  • RHP Brian Lawrence (torn right labrum and rotator cuff) began the season on the disabled list, and he is almost certainly out for the year.
  • 1B/C Robert Fick (bone spurs in right elbow) opened the season on the disabled list. Tendinitis in his right shoulder has slowed him, but he has resumed his rehab assignment with Double-A Harrisburg. He could be activated next week (mid-May).
  • SS Cristian Guzman (slight tear in right shoulder) had season-ending surgery Tuesday (May 9) after his attempt to rehab the shoulder failed.
  • RHP Ryan Drese (right elbow pain) went on the disabled list April 15, and he's unlikely to return before late May.
  • RHP Pedro Astacio (strained forearm) began the season on the disabled list. He had a setback in his rehab, so he is not close to heading out on a minor league assignment.
  • RHP John Patterson (strained right forearm) went on the disabled list retroactive to April 23. He received an injection in his arm Monday (May 8), and he probably won't be back until June.
  • RHP Gary Majewski (sore right shoulder) pitched Tuesday (May 9) after sitting out for five days.
  • C Brian Schneider (tight left hamstring) missed two consecutive starts, returned to action Wednesday (May 10), then missed another game Thursday (May 11). It appears he will be rested several more days.
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