Hernandez reverses course, will pitch through knee pain

Ace lashes out at media

Nats say frustration due to losing

July 22, 2005|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - A Washington Nationals clubhouse that had once emanated a satisfied calm hosted the oddest of pre-game spectacles yesterday as the team's top pitcher stood in front of his locker delivering an expletive-laced rant at the media.

In his mini-meltdown - his second in two days - Livan Hernandez said he wasn't a quitter and blamed ESPN for reports he said insinuated that he was. Hernandez, 30, who said after Wednesday's loss that he was considering season-ending surgery for a bad knee, clarified that there would be no surgery until the offseason.

"I pitch every day hurt," he bellowed, as a half-dozen media members kept their distance as if watching a caged lion roar. "For eight years I pitch every ... day. I never ... quit."

Club officials said Hernandez's comments were about more than a sore-kneed All-Star whose pride was wounded by broadcast suggestions that he might be abandoning his team in the middle of a tightly contested National League East division race.

They said Hernandez might as well have been venting for the entire team, which, after a magical start, has gone through a maddening stretch in which it has lost seven of eight one-run games, including last night's 3-2 defeat to the Houston Astros.

Hernandez made his initial comments after Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies in which he hit a franchise record four batters. He said afterward that he was likely not to pitch again this season, but added the caveat: "I'll go to sleep and I'm going to make a decision tonight."

He arrived at RFK Stadium yesterday and told general manager Jim Bowden that his right knee, which has bothered him most of the season, felt better. That was good news for the Nationals, who have won 15 of the 21 games Hernandez has started this year.

"Let's shut the chapter and go forward," Bowden said yesterday afternoon. "I don't see any reason why he's not going to be out there every fifth day till the end, no matter what happens to the knee."

Bowden and manager Frank Robinson blamed the blowup on losing and on a right knee that Hernandez said hurt so much that he couldn't sleep Wednesday night.

"When you're going through losing streaks like we're going through right now - and some tough times - we all get frustrated, and it comes out different ways," Bowden said.

Added Robinson: "We all have to let off a little steam. And we're all a little frustrated right now by the way we're playing."

What Robinson and Bowden didn't know was that Hernandez wasn't quite finished.

Shortly after their midafternoon comments, Hernandez fended off the media from his locker, ordering a television crew to shut off its camera and saying he wouldn't speak to reporters again.

He soon composed himself, beckoning to the print press to join him. "You don't know me, but everybody in the clubhouse knows me very well," Hernandez said. "Everybody know I go to the mound every five days with my knee or if something happens to me and I'm sick."

Hernandez's record bears him out. The Cuban-born pitcher, who defected in 1995, entered the season as one of only four big-league pitchers to start at least 30 games for seven straight years.

If Hernandez's remarks seem like a big deal now, that's because the team is losing, said relief pitcher Gary Majewski. "A lot of things get blown out of proportion when you're losing. I don't even know the whole situation. He did his thing, but it doesn't affect what other people do."

Majewski said the Nationals just needed to relax and remember what it was like when the team - which has now surrendered its sole grip on first place and is tied with the Atlanta Braves - was winning more often.

"It was like we were a bunch of guys in a pickup game playing softball," Majewski said.

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