Livan Hernandezand John Patterson, the pillars of the Nationals' pitching staff, are comingoff very different seasons. For Hernandez 2005 was a test of how much pain hecould endure. Patterson, on the other hand, had his first taste of the goodlife. Still, the two were similarly effective, and they must continue theirwinning ways if Washington is to have any hope of pulling off a surprise in theEast.
The Nationalscome into the season with questions aplenty. Will newcomer Alfonso Sorianofully accept his move to the outfield from second base? How dependable willsecond baseman Jose Vidro be following knee and ankle injuries that limited himto 87 games in '05? Which of the five pitchers competing for back-end rotationspots will overcome injuries or ineffectiveness?
While suchissues are sorted out, Hernandez, 31, and Patterson, 28, will have to hold theteam together. "If those two don't give us innings, more of the load fallson players who may not be capable of carrying that load," says managerFrank Robinson. "It's very important they set the tone of leadership andgive the bullpen a break."
A trueworkhorse, Hernandez threw 246 1/3 innings in '05, despite a bum right kneethat first began bothering him in May. With the Nationals off to a faststart--they were atop the division through much of June and July--Hernandezplayed through the pain, having the knee drained periodically to avoid surgerythat likely would have ended his season. Through Sept. 5 Hernandez was 15-6,but with the Nationals' playoffs hopes fading and his knee giving out, he losthis last four decisions. Immediately after the season Hernandez underwentsurgery to repair a torn meniscus.
His rehabprevented him from following his usual off-season rigorous regimen ofkickboxing and spinning classes, but Hernandez says he's ready for 2006:"My arm feels good, and the knee feels good too. The pitching is noproblem. The little bit of [concern] is that when I'm running, I have to becareful because if I twist it I may have a problem again."
Patterson, incontrast, was feeling healthy for the first time in years in '05, and hefinally began to live up to the promise that made him the fifth overallselection in the 1996 draft. After signing a $6 million contract with theDiamondbacks, the 6'5" Texan struggled in the minors. He missed most of the2000 season after having reconstructive surgery on his right elbow and sat outmuch of '01 with continued elbow inflammation before making his major leaguedebut midway through the '02 season. His first extended opportunity came in'04, after he was traded to the Nationals, but a groin injury caused him tomiss 10 weeks and limited his effectiveness on the mound. He finished 4-7 witha 5.03 ERA. "Every time something good would happen for me I'd gethurt," says Patterson. "It was starting to wear on me."
But whileplaying winter ball in the Dominican Republic after the 2004 season Pattersonfelt his mechanics, which had been tinkered with over the years, finally beginto fall into place. He rode that groove into '05. "My first couple of gameslast year I finally felt like myself," says Patterson. He finished ninth inthe league in ERA (3.13) and was 9-7 despite some anemic run support. (Hedidn't get a win in seven starts in which he gave up either one or zero runs.)"It did get frustrating at times, but I was pitching well, and that waswhat I could control," he says. "So that's what I focused on."
Patterson threw198 1/3 innings for Washington in 2005, plus another 50 or so in winter ballbefore the season. The workload took its toll--in September he went 1-3 with a5.63 ERA. So this winter he relaxed. He vacationed in Maui, hunted deer inTexas and didn't touch a baseball for almost two months.
Since age 11Patterson has set goals for himself at the start of each baseball season. Thisyear, he says, he wants to be effective throwing even more innings than lastyear. "If you go 200 innings, everything else falls into line," hesays. That's what the Nationals are counting on from both of their workhorses.--B.S.
Livan Hernandez has led the NL in innings pitched for three straight years.Only Greg Maddux and Robin Roberts (five years each) and Grover ClevelandAlexander (four) had longer streaks.
a modest proposal
The Nationalstook pains to sell Alfonso Soriano on playing leftfield and remain high oncenterfield prospect Brandon Watson, who'll likely start the year at Triple A.But they would be wise not to lose Ryan Church (right) in the shuffle. Church,27, hit .287 with a .353 OBP and a .466 slugging mark in '05, when rib andshoulder injuries limited him to 102 games; at the same time he showed he couldhandle centerfield, even in cavernous RFK Stadium. Washington lacks solid OBPguys and lefthanded pop in its outfield, and having Church in the lineupaddresses both shortcomings. What's more, he makes near the league minimumsalary.
projected roster with 2005 statistics
fifth season with Washington
ALFONSO SORIANO[New acquisition]
ROYCE CLAYTON[New acquisition]
MARLON ANDERSON[New acquisition]
[This article contains tables. Please see hard copy or pdf.]
Pedro Astacio [New acquisition]
Ramon Ortiz [New acquisition]
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 59)
coming to a ballpark near you this summer ...
The bullpen tooka hit this spring when workhorse setup man Luis Ayala suffered a season-endingelbow injury while pitching for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. That willlikely accelerate 22-year-old Bill Bray's ascent to the majors. Washington'sfirst-round draft pick in 2004, the lefty with the late-breaking curve struckout 49 in 40 innings combined as a late-inning reliever last season, when heclimbed from Class A to Triple A.
FINDING HIS FORM After years of injuries, Patterson finally put it all together in 2005. Now he needs some run support.
TOM DIPACE (CHURCH)
MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (BRAY)