Livan hurls first shutout of 2010 as Nats roll

Livan hurls first shutout of 2010 as Nats roll

WASHINGTON -- Livan Hernandez taught the Milwaukee Brewers about the science of pitching on Saturday.

The 35-year-old right-hander handcuffed the Brewers by changing speed and location. He moved the ball in and out, up and down, but kept it mostly down. Hernandez threw very slow and then much faster, or fast and then much slower.

It's the strategy Hernandez has used throughout his long career, and it worked just fine in this game also. He threw a four-hit shutout as the Nationals stretched their winning streak to three with an 8-0 victory over the Brewers before 18,673 at Nationals Park.

Hernandez (2-0) is the No. 5 man in the Washington rotation, but he's been pitching like an ace so far. He's yet to give up a run in two starts this season, throwing 16 scoreless innings. He blanked the Mets over seven innings last Sunday. That's the longest streak a Nationals pitcher has had at the beginning of a season.

In addition, it's Hernandez's first shutout since 2004, the eighth of his career and his 48th complete game. Hernandez struck out only three and walked two while facing just 33 batters in the nine innings.

"He's a pitcher," said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. "He just kind of exemplifies what we're trying to do in terms of our pitching staff -- just throw strikes, get the ball in play and let the defense work. He has no fear."

Hernandez got through the Milwaukee (4-7) lineup by throwing 112 pitches, 66 for strikes. He kept his pitches mostly in the mid-70s and mid-80s and didn't give up a hit after the fifth. The right-hander got into real trouble just once, in the second inning, when Milwaukee loaded the bases with one out.

That's when Hernandez got pitcher Randy Wolf (1-1) to ground back to him, and the right-hander started a 1-2-3 double play that ended the inning.

"I know I've got to keep the ball down," Hernandez said. "It's a good power-hitting team, you don't want to make a lot of mistakes. It's a good hitting team, I tried to not make too many mistakes."

Catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who is 38 years old, and Hernandez combined for a rather experienced battery in this game. They worked well together, and as Rodriguez said afterward, the two of them know what to do.

"He was good," Rodriguez said. "He threw strikes. He didn't try to do too much. Locate the [pitches] very well -- it makes everybody's job easy."

Rodriguez helped make things easy with another good day at the plate. He went 2-for-4 to improve his average to .419 this season. He also drove in three runs.

Justin Maxwell, recalled from Triple-A Syracuse on Thursday, got his first hit of the year, a two-run homer that sparked a three-run second for a 3-0 lead. Ryan Zimmerman returned to the starting lineup after missing most of the week with a sore left hamstring, and he went 2-for-3 with two RBIs.

Zimmerman lined an RBI double to left for a 4-0 lead in the fifth. Washington broke it open with a three-run sixth, as Rodriguez hit a two-run double and Maxwell added a sacrifice fly for a 7-0 lead. Zimmerman got his second RBI on a double in the seventh.

Zimmerman looked just fine after not starting for nearly a week with a sore left hamstring. He made a great diving stop in the ninth and said he was glad to be back out on the field, especially with the team playing so well.

"I think it was fun to be back out there," Zimmerman said. "It was a long four or five days. We know what we have here. We know we have a good team."

The victory put Washington over the .500 mark for the first time since early in the 2008 season. Riggleman said it's early, but a good payoff for all the hard work they've put in so far. They're hoping to see more of the same as the season continues.

Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.