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Say what you want about Livan Hernandez -- he's pudgy, he's got average stuff, and there's no way he's only 33 years old -- but the man is an innings eater.
Hernandez has been traded or cast away by four teams now, but when the dust settles, there he is, pitching late into games every fifth day. He was at it again Wednesday night, tossing a complete game victory over the White Sox to improve to 5-1 for the Twins, who now look brilliant for signing him for peanuts ($5 million with up to $2 million in incentives) in the offseason. The strange thing about Hernandez is that he's really never been a dominating pitcher. Decent stuff, but never great; just ask the players who've taken him deep 279 times since 1996. His 4.24 career ERA is pedestrian, as is his 1.42 WHIP, but he always takes the ball and rarely relinquishes it before the seventh inning.
Since 1998, Hernandez leads the majors in innings pitched with 2,324. Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens are distant competitors. Granted, Innings Pitched is a simple stat that doesn't tell the whole story, as evidenced by his 126 losses -- or almost 12 per year -- over that time period.
But ask a manager with a tired bullpen how he feels about five earned runs in eight innings from his starter, and I bet he'll say he'd take it. That's Hernandez, though to be fair, he's often better than that. Even with a .500 record most seasons, Hernandez is an asset to any pitching rotation.
That Hernandez does it not only night after night, but also year after year -- seemingly without time off for injuries -- is all the more remarkable. Since 1998, Hernandez lowest start total is 30 games. Are you listening, Josh Beckett?
It seems that Hernandez's average stuff and seemingly cavalier attitude have turned off some of the teams he's played for. San Francisco, for instance, seemed convinced that Hernandez was over the hill after he bombed in the 2002 World Series, and they shipped him to Montreal for Jim Brower in 2003.
Think they'd like to have that one back? The later Nationals traded Hernandez, though, and Arizona let him walk after last season. Hernandez has responded to his sendoffs in the only way he knows: he just keeps pitching.