It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for those fans in attendance at Nats park this weekend. On Saturday, fans were delighted to watch an absolute pitching gem by a pitcher who belongs to a significant part of the franchise's brief history in the District. The following day, those same fans watched their prized offseason acquisition implode on the mound for the second start in a row. In the rubble of destruction from the failure of his first three starts, that pitcher left many unanswered questions as to his future role in the organization. Examining these two pitchers, Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis, side by side presents an interesting and stark contrast.
Entering free agency, Mike Rizzo and the Nationals had the stated goal of improving the pitching of a team that at one point during the 2009 season featured four rookie starting pitchers and John Lannan, the team's ace by default. Their first move, in what ended up being a relatively busy offseason, was to sign the former Colorado pitcher Jason Marquis to a two year, $15 million contract. The contract would become their most expensive move of the season for the Nationals and Marquis would be touted by the front office as an innings eater and a guy that could serve as a mentor to the young pitchers on the team with similar pitching styles. Marquis made the All-Star team for the National League last season, but then suffered a decline in production during the second half that should have served as a warning sign to the next team that signed him. His ERA jumped from 3.65 to 4.56 and his WHIP went from 1.31 to 1.48. Things got so bad, that the Rockies even decided to leave him out of the NLDS rotation.
Lost in the shuffle of the various signings made by the Nationals this offseason, was the resigning of veteran pitcher Livan Hernandez to a minor league contract. Five years earlier, when baseball returned to Washington D.C., Livan had been the team's stopper. Pitching 246.1 innings with a 3.98 ERA and 15 wins to his name, Hernandez was a large part of the Nationals push for a wild card spot in 2005. He was later traded in 2006 to the Diamondbacks for Matt Chico and Garrett Mock, two players that he beat out in spring training to make this year's team. After getting traded from the Nats, he bounced around to different teams until he resigned with the team last season as they shut down some of their younger pitchers who had reached their inning limits for the year. For his part, Livo, who has not been as sharp as he was for the Nats in 2005, claims that he injured himself by pitching too much late in the season for the team as they made a push for the playoffs. It should be noted, however, that he was not angry about it and also said this spring training that it was the first time since the injury that he was at full strength. In retrospect and based off of early returns, it appears that the Nationals may have offered the wrong guy the guaranteed contract.