March 20, Tucson – Last May 11, the Reds beat the Nationals 5-4 in 11 innings in Cincinnati. The national coverage of that game was devoted to the fact that Ken Griffey Jr. won the game with a walk-off three run homerun, and that’s the way the story should have been written. After all, it was Grif’s first game in a month and it was his 539th career long ball.
The lost story in that game is that a clutch rbi in the top of the 11th gave the Nats what appeared to be a comfortable 4-1 lead. The run was driven in by pinch hitter Livan Hernandez. It was the first career pinch hit for the veteran and while he may not have Jason Marquis beat as a pitcher/pinch hitter (Marquis has 6 career pinch hits), he has them all beat as an overall hitter since his first full season in 1998.
In 684 at bats since 98’, Livan has 161 hits, 66 rbi’s and 31 2b’s, all best in the big leagues for a hurler. He’s not picky either, as a matter of fact; you have to hit the mascot in order to walk Hernandez…5 free passes in 9 seasons.
During pitcher’s batting practice on Tuesday, he reminded me that he did not like his performance at the plate as a Dback after the trade last year.
“Two hits,” Livan said, “I only had two hits. I’ve got to do better than that. I had 12 hits before the trade.”
A quick peek at the numbers does show that the Cuban native had more hits than any pitcher in NL last year, but he was stuck on the pair he had in Arizona. Call me crazy, but guys like Livan remind all of us why the National League is a more intriguing brand of baseball. Other pitchers should also take note that if you help yourself with the bat, you increase your chances of pitching later in ballgames. On occasion it may have been the reason that Livan earned that last at bat in the 6th or 7th. It may have played a small role in the fact that during those same 9 seasons, no one has thrown more innings in either league.
About 4 hours before the pitchers were hacking in the cage, Conor Jackson and Chris Carter were on the same diamond exhausting themselves with defensive drills at first base. Kevin Seitzer and Kirk Gibson took turns hitting bullets with the fungo as the two first sackers focused on footwork, soft hands and throwing.
Conor’s 12 errors last year had him sandwiched between Ryan Howard (14) and Prince Fielder (11) as one of four NL first basemen with double digit miscues. Nick Johnson led them all with 15. If you focus on the three younger players, it is easy to realize that they all have solid offensive attributes yet are still finding themselves defensively. For Jackson, moving to different spots on the diamond defensively has had to be challenging.
“He has improved tremendously,” noted skipper Bob Melvin, “He played third base in college and a majority of his learning at first has had to come in the big leagues. It’s tough enough to learn the position, the pitching staff and the fielders around you, let alone to do it at the highest level. He’s starting to get more instinctive. It’s like a handball player, after he’s played the sport for a while he starts to recognize where the ball is going from just about every spot it hits the wall.”