Hernandez's strong start holds up for O's

Hernandez's strong start holds up for O's

WASHINGTON -- There was no need to bog down Friday's game with statistics, or to dissect each of the 105 pitches thrown by starter David Hernandez -- nearly half of which were balls. In the end, all that mattered was one letter: a 'W,' in a start of such magnitude that manager Dave Trembley simply raised an eyebrow and said, "It speaks for itself."

Tagged with an 0-5 record and right shoulder discomfort that forced him to miss Sunday's start, Hernandez entered Friday's game on shaky ground and in danger of losing his rotation spot to one of the O's top pitching prospects in Triple-A. He responded with his best start this season, snapping a personal losing streak of 11 decisions en route to Baltimore's 5-3 series-opening win over Washington.

"They are not going to let me go 0-6, 0-7, 0-8," said Hernandez, who acknowledged feeling the push from the likes of young starters Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta down in Norfolk.

"I figured I had to start showing something. I definitely didn't pitch deep enough like I wanted to do, but I put zeroes up on the board."

For the game's first hour, it looked like Hernandez might do more than that, as the right-hander silenced a crowd of 27,378 at Nationals Park in taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning. Hernandez -- citing his high pitch count -- said he wasn't thinking about a no-no. Batterymate Craig Tatum said the possibility of history was absolutely on his mind.

"And I was mad when a relief pitcher breaks it up," Tatum said, referring to Miguel Bautista's two-out, fifth-inning single.

While Hernandez lost his bid with history, the right-hander made sure he wouldn't become just that in the Orioles' rotation.

"He helped his cause tremendously," Trembley said. "And I think it verifies the decision that was made by all of us to skip him a start, to back him off, to get him some rest, to let the medical people work on him.

"From both a physical and mental standpoint, it was necessary. And the results speak for themselves."

Hernandez retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced to open the game, and worked out of his biggest jam in the fourth inning. He ran into some trouble there courtesy of a pair of walks sandwiched around Ryan Zimmerman's fly out. Hernandez retired Josh Willingham on an infield pop-up and Ivan Rodriguez flied out before Washington could build any momentum.

He exited after issuing a pair of one-out walks in the sixth and was charged with the run scored on Rodriguez's ensuing fielder's choice hit off reliever Matt Albers. Albers also surrendered a two-run homer to Willie Harris in the seventh.

While Hernandez tossed a solid 5 1/3 innings, yielding a run on one hit, he acknowledged he has to pitch better. Friday's five walks are a glaring statistic and one that a more offensive-minded opponent -- such as divisional foes New York or Tampa Bay -- will capitalize on.

"The walks make him pitch and walk a tightrope," Trembley said. "They weren't hitting him. They got on base because he walked people."

While Trembley was quick to point out that Hernandez will always be a high-pitch count guy given his stuff, Hernandez knows he must work to curtail the free pass to stay effective and in the O's rotation.

"That's something that I have to get figured out and that comes with my mechanics," Hernandez said. "[I've] got to be able keep my mechanics a whole lot better, and that will allow me to pitch a whole lot deeper in the game."

His start was enough on Friday, as Hernandez used four runs of early support -- the most he's gotten all season -- to outlast mound counterpart Scott Olsen. The Orioles jumped on Olsen early, as Adam Jones blasted the first pitch he saw in the second inning for a two-run homer.

Jones left the game with cramping in his right leg prior to the bottom of the fourth, while Olsen exited after the third with left shoulder tightness. Tatum tagged Olsen for a two-out, two-run single, scoring Baltimore's third and fourth runs.

"That was his birthday present to [Matt] Wieters," Trembley said of Tatum, who filled in admirably while Wieters nursed a sore right knee. "He came and gave us what he had. He got some big hits, called a good game, ran the bases. What you would want from your backup guy."

After starting the year 1-for-17 at the plate, Tatum has gone 5-for-7, including Friday's 2-for-3 performance.

"It seems like at the beginning of the year, I wasn't ever going to get a hit," Tatum said. "But the good thing lately is I've been having good at-bats and sticking with my approach."

While Tatum is hopeful his offense is turning the corner, Hernandez was holding out similar hope that he won't have to endure another 11-decisiion drought before his next win. Hernandez's losing streak was the longest active streak in the Majors and the second longest in franchise history.

"I can't lie, it does feel good to get a win, especially in the big leagues," Hernandez said. "They're not easy to come by."

It's a fact the Orioles know all too well given that they've gone 4-6 in their past 10 games are fresh off a two-game sweep by the Rangers.

"I was sweating it out for the team," Hernandez said as he watched closer Alfredo Simon put the finishing touches on the Orioles' 14th win.

"It was a tough series in Texas and I was trying to set the tone here."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.