Notes: Healthy Hernandez eyes opener

Notes: Healthy Hernandez looks toward opener

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- In six innings of work on Wednesday afternoon, Livan Hernandez pitched six innings and gave up two runs -- one earned -- on seven hits.

The good news, though, was that he was able to move toward the first-base bag twice and take throws from first baseman Nick Johnson for outs, an indication that his surgically repaired right knee is close to 100 percent.

For the spring, Hernandez has a 1.80 ERA, and he has declared himself fit to pitch the season opener, against the Mets on April 3 at Shea Stadium.

It will be the sixth time in his career, and third year in a row, that Hernandez has been given such an assignment. He was the Opening Day starter for the Expos/Nationals in 2004 and 2005, the Giants gave him the nod in 2001 and 2002, and he had the honor with the Marlins in 1998.

Hernandez has been the ace of the Nationals/Expos since 2003. Last season, he went 15-10 with a 3.98 ERA. He also led the Major Leagues with 246 1/3 innings pitched, despite playing most of the season with a sore right knee.

"My knee is not perfect, but it's 99 percent," said Hernandez. "I didn't think it would be easy, because I had to do a lot of [exercises] to get my body ready for Opening Day. I worked hard every day and tried to put everything together. Sometimes when you have [six] weeks [to prepare], you get tired of the same stuff. But I have to do it."

Hernandez has to continue exercising and strengthening the knee throughout the season, instructions he received after having surgery in early October.

"My knee is strong, but I want to work on [it]," he said. "I want to make sure I finish the year perfectly."

Manager Frank Robinson agreed with Hernandez's assessment that he is ready to pitch the opener.

"He's ready for Opening Day," said Robinson. "No doubt about it. He's OK."

Power source: Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said that he is not trying to hit home runs, but entering Wednesday's action, he was leading the Nationals in long balls, with seven. It helps that he put on weight before he reported to training camp.

General manager Jim Bowden has marveled at the power that Zimmerman has displayed, and wouldn't be surprised if Zimmerman hits a lot of home runs this year.

"When we drafted him, we thought he would hit 15 to 20 home runs early on and eventually, he would be up to 25 to 30," said Bowden. "[After] what you saw this spring, he might end up [hitting] 30 to 40 with a normal ballpark.

"He has had a great spring. He has shown more power. I think he has hit more homers this spring than he did in college. The talent has been there, and he has worked hard. He got a lot stronger in the offseason. His hands go through the zone good."

Bat's OK: Being uncomfortable in the outfield has not affected Alfonso Soriano's bat. After Wednesday's action, Soriano is hitting .333 with two home runs, four RBIs and eight runs scored.

Soriano said that there's a reason his glove issues have not carried over into his offense.

"It's two different parts of the game," said Soriano. "I was doing the same thing when I was playing second base. When I play defense, I play defense. When I hit, I don't think about defense."

Around the horn: The Nationals are 9-20-1 this spring. ... Jon Rauch has a 5.87 ERA this spring. ... The Nationals are 4-4 since Soriano played his first game, on March 22. ... The Nationals are expected to make roster moves on Thursday. Most likely, they will make a decision between first baseman Daryle Ward and outfielder Michael Tucker. ... Washington is expected to carry extra players when it plays a home-and-home exhibition series against the Orioles this weekend.

Quote of the day: "This Spring Training has been the most bizarre I have ever been a part of in my career. I have never been a part of anything like this. It has been the most un-fun. To me, it has been one nightmare after another. It's like I am working for the fire department and putting out fires every day. But I have been through springs like this before, and then the season starts, and you are in a pennant race all year. We are hoping that will happen here." -- Bowden

Coming up: On Thursday, the Nationals play their last exhibition game in Florida, taking on the Braves at Space Coast Stadium at 1:05 p.m. ET. Tony Armas Jr. will get the start for the Nationals, and John Smoltz gets the nod for the Braves.

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