Hernandez plays through the pain

All-Stars deliver consistency to Nationals

DETROIT -- A couple of days before he went to the All-Star Game in Detroit, Nationals right-hander Livan Hernandez received phone calls from team president Tony Tavares and interim general manager Jim Bowden, thanking him for the great first half of the season.

Yes, Hernandez was 12-3 with a 3.48 ERA, but Tavares and Bowden thanked their ace particularly for not missing a start despite playing with an inflamed right knee since mid-May. Hernandez is spotted with an ice wrap on the knee on a daily basis.

"They thanked me for the job I did despite being hurt. I pitched every fifth day. It's not easy," Hernandez said. "Somebody else would have missed a start or two. I don't want to miss any starts. I want to continue pitching. I want to do something right for my team. I'm thinking if I don't pitch, my team will miss me."

According to Hernandez, the knee will not be 100 percent until he has arthroscopic surgery, which he is thinking about having after the season. He also believes that losing some weight may take some of the pressure off the knee. Hernandez is listed at 245 pounds.

"I'm willing to have the surgery because I want to be right. [After the surgery], you start walking in three days," Hernandez said. "Maybe I lose a little more weight. Not too much, because, it's the weight I play with all the time. I'm good at this weight."

Hernandez has been right for the Nationals all season, and arguably the No. 1 reason the team is in first place in the National League East, 2 1/2 games ahead of the Braves. He is at, or near, the top in innings pitched (134 1/3) and wins.

Hernandez is known to throw an arsenal of pitches, including the fastball, slow curveball and sinker. And most of the hitters are baffled when he's on the mound.

"Livan is a puzzle," said Phillies All-Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins. "When he first came up with the Marlins, he was throwing cheese, so that was in the back of your mind. I was waiting for 95 miles an hour fastball to come out, but he's throwing 88-89 mph. His ball is moving all over the place. He doesn't make mistakes. You have to figure out what is working on that day."

Dodgers second baseman Jeff Kent, an All-Star himself, played with Hernandez when both were with the Giants. Kent said Hernandez has a strategy when he's on the mound.

All-Star Game 2005

"When I was in San Francisco, I was very impressed with his calm nature," Kent said. "He seems so methodical, slow, precise and patient that you wonder if he's lazy. But as a player who knows him, I know that's not true at all. He is one of the pitchers that I really like to play behind."

Hernandez hopes that he will be able to show his talent in the All-Star Game on Tuesday. Last season, he was selected to his first Midsummer Classic, but didn't play in the game. Hernandez believes he didn't play in the game because he was being saved just in the case the game was tied.

"I want to pitch this year. Let's see what happens," he said.

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