Notes: Livan labors through first half

Notes: Livan labors through first half

WASHINGTON -- From 2003-05, Nationals right-hander Livan Hernandez was the least of manager Frank Robinson's worries. It was almost a given that Hernandez would pitch deep into a ballgame and give the club a chance to win.

This year has been a different story. Hernandez is 6-8 with a 5.94 ERA. For most of the season, he has told Robinson and the media that his right knee, which was surgically repaired during the offseason, was fine. But on Friday, Hernandez acknowledged that the knee is still not 100 percent.

In fact, the knee didn't feel good when he gave up seven runs in 1 2/3 innings against the Marlins on Thursday afternoon. Because of the knee, Hernandez couldn't use the lower half of his body. It prevented him from putting more velocity on his fastball. If the fastball has the same speed as his breaking ball, the hitters will not know the difference and Hernandez most likely will be hit hard.

Hernandez is hoping that seven days of rest will help the knee feel better. He is expected to pitch the first game of the second half against the Pirates next Friday. He also said he has no intentions of going on the disabled list.

"[On Thursday], it was not 100 percent. It didn't feel good. I felt it when I got out of the bed," Hernandez said. "I am coming here and not [giving] an excuse. I [have] to pitch. Trust me, I'm not going to feel good if I get one month of rest. I think I would feel bad because the organization is not [expecting me to take off] for one month."

Hernandez believes he can rebound and have a solid season. He pointed out that he got off to a slow start in 2000 with the Giants and ended up having a good season. He went 7-7 with a 4.25 ERA in the first half, before turning it around with a 10-4 record and a 3.19 ERA after the All-Star break.

"I know everybody expects something better than this because I won 12 games [before the All-Star break last year]," Hernandez said. "You know the year is not finished. I come back and I try to come back stronger. More importantly, my mind is OK. I passed a lot of tests in my life. I can pass this one. This is something that will not get me. I am looking for nine, 10 [wins] in the second half. I [have] got a chance to win 15 games. That's the only thing you can do. You take one month off, it's not going to help."

Pitching and more pitching: Pitching coach Randy St. Claire said left-hander Mike O'Connor will pitch for Triple-A New Orleans on Sunday against Oklahoma. He will throw on three days' rest.

General manager Jim Bowden said O'Connor was not sent down because he gave up a combined 10 runs in last two starts, but it's also not a guarantee that he would be back with the big club anytime soon. The Nationals already have four starters in the rotation and Tony Armas Jr. is expected to be activated from the disabled list after the All-Star break.

"O'Connor got called up [to the big leagues] because of injuries," St. Claire said. "You have Armas coming back and you have these other guys [John Patterson and Pedro Astacio] coming back now. It's not the fairest thing, but these guys take precedence over the younger guys. O'Connor didn't fail. I thought he did a great job for us while he was here."

Vidro asks for some rest: Second baseman Jose Vidro told Robinson that he needed the day off, but Vidro is expected to be back in action on Saturday.

"I don't even call it being tired," Vidro said. "I just needed a day off. It's just one of those things."

Vidro did appear in Friday's loss as a pinch-hitter, going 0-for-2 on the day. The first half marked the first time since the 2002 season that Vidro has been relatively healthy. He has played in 84 games and is hitting .308 with five home runs and 32 RBIs.

"I feel very happy because I was able to be out there every day. It was something I was looking forward to," Vidro said. "I'm ready to go for the second half. All that work [during the offseason] made me feel good. We'll see what happens."

Look who's back: Third baseman Vinny Castilla returned to Washington for the first time since the Nationals traded him to the Padres for right-hander Brian Lawrence and cash on Nov. 3. Castilla said he understood that he was dealt to make room for rookie Ryan Zimmerman.

"I [understood] since before they made the trade," Castilla said. "I know he is a good player. I [saw] him play last year and he has all the tools. He is old school, too. I like the way he goes about his business."

Like last year, Castilla still has right knee problems and is reluctant to have surgery. He is hitting .236 with four home runs and 23 RBIs.

In retrospect: Robinson said that the 2006 Nationals were not prepared to play coming out of Spring Training. It didn't help that several of their players -- Brian Schneider, Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala, Gary Majewski and Alfonso Soriano -- went to the World Baseball Classic. Ayala ended up suffering a serious injury that required elbow reconstruction and Soriano didn't get to play left field, a new position for him, until he came back from the Classic.

"I don't think we had the time together that it would have taken this team to get ready for the season," Robinson said. "[It] was a very unsettling Spring Training. Again, I'm not putting the blame on this, but the World [Baseball] Classic, to me, hurt us more than maybe any team, because of the people who left us. ...

"With those people gone, Spring Training was like, 'They're not here [and] we're waiting for them to get back.' And when they got back, they were always catching up. This is why you have Spring Training for this length of time -- six weeks -- to build."

Injury report: Outfielder Jose Guillen, who has a sore right elbow, was seen playing catch with bench coach Eddie Rodriguez before Friday's game. Guillen felt good enough to play against the Padres and went 1-for-3 with an RBI. Robinson expects Guillen to play both Saturday and Sunday.

Coming up: The Nationals play the second game of a three-game series against the Padres on Saturday at RFK Stadium at 7:05 p.m. ET.

Right-hander Pedro Astacio (1-0, 1.80 ERA) will get the start for Washington, while right-hander Chris Young (7-4, 3.13 ERA) gets the nod for San Diego.

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