Hernandez latches on with Braves
Hours after being released by Astros, veteran signs with Atlanta
One week before the start of the 2012 season, the Astros released veteran pitcher Livan Hernandez, not the very best time for a 37-year-old baseball player to go looking for a job. It took Hernandez about an hour to find work.
He simply got in his car and drove the 15 miles from the Astros camp in Kissimee, Fla., to the Braves' camp in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Shortly after that, the burly right-hander was wearing his familiar No. 61 for his eighth big league team -- ninth if you count the month he spent in Astros camp.
"I threw good there," Hernandez said of his time with Houston, where he was 1-2 with a 5.63 ERA. "I thought I had a good camp. I thought I would be in their starting rotation. They invited me to camp. There were other teams interested. I picked them.
"When they cut me, I knew I could still pitch."
The Braves thought so, too, and when he showed up, they signed Hernandez to a one-year Major League contract, a distinct improvement on the Minor League deal he had with the Astros. He pitched out of the bullpen for the Braves on April 7, the first time he has worked in relief since his first Major League game in 1996 with the Marlins.
It hardly makes a difference to Hernandez, who has a reputation as an innings-eater. In 16 Major League seasons he has never been on the disabled list, never missed a turn in rotations from Washington to Arizona, from San Francisco to Minnesota and several other places in between.
"I forget how many teams," he said matter-of-factly. "You give me the ball and I pitch. I play baseball. This is what I do."
For the record, Hernandez's Major League odyssey began in 1996, when he came up for a brief look and that single relief appearance. A year later at age 22, he came up in midseason to stay and helped pitch the Marlins to a World Series championship. He won two games in the League Championship Series against Atlanta, including a 15-strikeout performance in Game 5. He won two more in the World Series against Cleveland and was the MVP of both series. It was a heady time for the Cuban émigré who had been making $6 a month pitching in his homeland before fleeing to the United States.
After three years with the Marlins, he moved on to the Giants, then Expos/Nationals, Dbacks, Twins, Rockies, Mets, back to Washington and now the Braves.
He has never had a problem finding a team that thought he could pitch. Part of that is his durability.
Pitchers have gone down all around him. Aches and pains are part of the job. In serious cases, Tommy John surgery, a ligament transplant procedure, has been the diagnosis. Hernandez would know nothing about any of that.
"The DL?" he said. " I have never been close to the DL. I take care of myself very well."
And he has the numbers to prove it.
There are 50 complete games and nine shutouts. He threw his 50,000th career pitch last August. And he figures there are plenty more left in his arm. He ranks second among active pitchers with 3,121 2/3 innings pitched and his 474 starts are third most.
He has also been a productive batter and leads all pitchers with 215 hits and 85 RBIs since 1996. He has had 10 home runs as well.
But the number that matters most to Hernandez are his 174 wins -- 26 short of the 200-victory milestone.
"I think about 200," he said. "Of course, I do. That's a goal for me. If I get the opportunity to get to 200, that would be nice. We'll see what happens. That would be special for anybody."
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.