Arizona Turns To Hernandez For Boost

With the Diamondbacks one game back in the National League wild-card race and two out in the NL West hunt, they’re looking for someone to put them over the top. They hope Livan Hernandez can give them that boost after trading for him on Monday, sending Double-A pitching prospects Garrett Mock and Matt Chico to the Nationals in a waiver-wire deal. Washington also included roughly $2 million to cover most of Hernandez’ remaining salary this year.


Hernandez won the NL Championship Series and World Series MVP awards as a rookie in 1997, when he helped pitch the Marlins to their first championship, and he was part of two playoff teams in four years with the Giants. The 31-year-old righthander earned all-star honors in 2004 and 2005 for the Expos/Nationals, but he hasn’t been as effective this year while battling a sore knee. In 24 starts, he has gone 9-8, 5.34, though he has turned in quality starts in his last five outings and in seven of his last eight. He has an 89-52 K-BB ratio, while opponents are batting .298 with 22 homers against him. Hernandez’ stuff doesn’t inspire awe, as he throws in the high 80s and backs up his fastball with an ordinary assortment of curveballs, sliders and changeups. His best trait may be his ability to absorb innings, and he has led the NL in that category for three years running. Hernandez also is one of the game’s best hitting pitchers, with a career .239 average and eight homers. He’s making $8 million this season and is due $7 million in 2007, after which his three-year, $21 million contract will expire. His career record is 119-112, 4.20 in 308 games. Arizona traded Hernandez’ half-brother Orlando to the Mets in May.


New Nationals vice president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo is very familiar with both pitching prospects in the deal, having drafted both of them as Arizona’s scouting director.


Mock, a 23-year-old righthander, was a third-round pick out of Houston in 2004. He has more than enough stuff, starting with a 91-95 mph four-seam fastball and an 88-92 mph cutter. He also throws a slider, curveball and changeup. For all his stuff, Mock has been hittable as a pro because he leaves too many pitches over the plate. Working at Double-A Tennessee this year, he has gone 4-8, 4.95 in 23 starts. He has a 117-50 K-BB ratio, .280 opponent average and 14 homers allowed in 131 innings.


“His stuff’s been good all year, but sometimes I think he just throws too many strikes and that leads to the high hit total,” Rizzo told Baseball America shortly before his departure for Washington. “He’s a tough nut, and this is a very important year for him developmentally. The hits are one part of the equation, but what you look for is that ability to work through it and he’s done that with some success this season.”


Chico, a 23-year-old lefty, was a third-rounder after flunking out of Palomar (Calif.) JC in 2003. After bombing in Double-A last year, he has bounced back with a strong 2006. In 23 starts between high Class A Lancaster and Tennessee, he has gone 10-6, 2.81. He also has a 112-32 K-BB ratio in 131 innings and has held hitters to a .222 average and 11 homers. Chico can hit 94 mph on the radar gun but pitches better in the low 90s. He also throws an average curveball and a changeup.


“He’s confident. I don’t think that confidence was shaken by what happened to him last year,” Rizzo said. “He’s made some adjustments and really learned that he doesn’t have to blow everybody away, that 90-92 with location and command consistently is better than just blowing gas at everybody.”


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