Livan leads the way to win over Jays

Livan leads the way to win over Blue Jays

WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Frank Robinson has often said pitching, defense and timely hitting are the keys to his team's success. That was the case on Saturday night, as the Nationals defeated Blue Jays, 5-2, in front of 39,881 at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

The Nationals have now won 12 consecutive games at home and improved their record to 44-30. The last time the Nationals were 14 games over .500 was on May 25, 2003, when they were known as the Expos. Montreal was 32-18 on that date.

The pitching was solid with right-hander Livan Hernandez on the mound. He went 7 1/3 innings and gave up two runs on seven hits. He struck out four batters and walked three.

Both runs scored in the top of the eighth inning, with the Nationals leading, 4-0.

With runners on first and second and one out, Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun drove in Shea Hillenbrand with a single to center field. Robinson then took Hernandez out of the game in favor of right-hander Luis Ayala. It appeared at first that Hernandez was upset that he was being removed, but the truth was that Hernandez was upset that he had hit Hillenbrand with a 1-2 pitch.

As Hernandez was walking the toward the dugout, Hernandez tipped his cap to the fans, who gave him a thunderous ovation.

"I was angry that I hit a batter with two strikes. When you are a pitcher, you want a strikeout or a ground ball," Hernandez said. "The fans here are great. They support the team 100 percent. It's good when you have close to 40,000 people screaming for you. They have your back."

Alex Rios was the next batter, and he hit what looked like a perfect double-play ball to shortstop Cristian Guzman. The Nationals were able to get the force at second, but second baseman Junior Spivey bounced his throw past first baseman Nick Johnson, allowing Eric Hinske to score the second run.

Chad Cordero then entered the game and shut out the Blue Jays the rest of the way to pick up his Major League-leading 25th save of the season.

Hernandez won a career-high 10th consecutive decision, and that achievement has a lot of meaning for him.

"It means that I'm pitching well," he said. "Opening Day [against the Phillies], I didn't pitch a good game, but I knew I was going to be good this year. I felt 100 percent starting in Spring Training. I knew it would be different this year. The guys are really playing good baseball. If you pitch well and the guys are hitting, you will win a lot of games."

It was defense and execution that helped secure the victory for Hernandez and allowed the Nationals to control the game. In the fourth inning, for example, the Blue Jays had runners on first and second and no outs when Hinske hit a liner down the left-field line that seemed sure to fall in. Marlon Byrd dove for the ball, however, and made a sensational acrobatic catch.

"I reached out there and grabbed it, but once I caught it, I needed to know where I was going with the ball. But I saw the runners holding up," Byrd said.

Zaun then singled to load the bases, but Hernandez managed to get Rios to hit a comebacker to the mound, and the righty was able to get Vernon Wells at the plate. Orlando Hudson then ended the inning by hitting into a force play.

"The sinker was working good," Hernandez said. "I could throw the sinker outside and have them hit a ground ball to [the infield] and make a double play and get out of the inning. It happened in a different way, but I'll take it."

With two outs in the top of the seventh inning, Byrd did it again with defense. He threw out Frank Catalanotto, who was trying to stretch a two-out single into a double.

"Most left fielders are supposed to have below-average arms, but I work on throwing every day. It took a great throw to get him out," Byrd said.

The Nationals are near the bottom of the National League in home runs and RBIs, but they were able to get timely hits on Saturday against Blue Jays left-hander Ted Lilly (5-8).

With runners on first and second and one out in the first, Johnson singled to left-center field to drive in Brad Wilkerson and give the Nationals a 1-0 lead. Byrd followed with a bloop single to center to send home Spivey.

The Nationals scored two more runs in the third inning. Byrd drove in his second run of the game by grounding out to second base, scoring Spivey on the play. Vinny Castilla followed with a single to center to drive in Johnson.

The Nationals scored their last run in the eighth inning off Toronto reliever Jason Frasor. With runners on first and third, Zaun tried to throw out Byrd, who was attempting to steal second base. But the ball went into center field, allowing Johnson to score and make it a 5-2 game.

"We don't kill people with our offense, but tonight we maximized our hits, to say the least," Robinson said.

With the win, the Nationals remain in first place in the Nationals League East, four games ahead of the Braves.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.