The Washington Nationals didn't sign Livan Hernandez until Feb. 24, after pitchers and catchers reported for spring training.  He was brought in for insurance, in case several other much younger players could not grasp a job in the Nats' staring rotation.

But as spring training wore on, it was obvious that a rotation spot was Livo's to lose.  He pitched well while others around him did not, and he wound up as the Nats' No. 5 starter.  He wasn't on the Opening Day roster--rather he was left behind in Florida so that the team could carry an extra bullpen arm the first week of the season.

He was finally activated early Sunday, taking the roster spot of one of those pitchers the team hoped would secure a spot, Garrett Mock.  Instead, Mock has already pitched his way off the team as he walked five and gave up four hits in less than three innings in his Friday start.

And in his first start of the season, at Citifield in Queens, Hernandez fairly dominated the New York Mets, throwing seven shutout innings in a 5-2 win.

Josh Willingham drove in all five runs with a first inning grand slam and third inning RBI double off Mets starter Johan Santana (L, 1-1, 4.91). 

The outing was by far the Nats finest starting appearance of the young season.  Hernandez gave up just five hits and three walks in seven full.  He struck out just one batter.

He got in trouble a few times, but was able to work his way out each time.

In the second he got two quick outs, but surrendered a two-out triple to Jeff Francoeur.  But he got Gary Matthews to hit a fly ball to centerfielder Nyjer Morgan on a 2-2 count to end the inning.

In the third, Santana doubled with one out and Jose Reyes walked behind him.  But Hernandez setteld down and and got Alex Cora and David Wright to harmlessly fly out.

And with two on and two outs in the sixth, the wily veteran coaxed a weak pop up by Matthews to end the threat.

All the offense Livo would need was provided in the first inning by Willingham.  He took a 2-1 changeup to where the left field and center field fences come together.  The ball hit off the top of the wall, where an orange line signifies a home run.

The umpires ruled the ball in play, and as the ball bounced around the outfield, Nationals players were rounding the bases.  The ball was relayed to home, where Adam Dunn ran over catcher Rod Barajas to score.  Santana retrieved the ball and tossed to Barajas, where there was another collision with Willingham.

But it was all for naught, as manager Jim Riggleman immediately came out to protest the play.

It brought to mind a game last April, where then-manager Manny Acta did not protest a questionable home run call in the difficult to read Citifield outfiled walls.

After a very quick review, umpire Daryl Cousins declared Willingham's ball did indeed hit past the orange line, and the play was ruled a home run.

The Hammer also knocked in Cristian Guzman in the third with a double.

Tempers flared in the top of the ninth after Francisco Rodriguez hit Willie Harris with a pitch.  Harris yelled something after being hit, and Rodriguez thought he was yelling at him, and took exception.  The benches emptied, but cooler heads prevailed.  Harris stated afterward he wasn't addressing Rodriguez.

The win evened the Nats record at 3-3.

The Nationals travel to Phialdelphia to face the Phillies in their home opener tomorrow at 3:05 pm.

NATS NOTES:  Closer Matt Capps had a 1-2-3 ninth inning for the save, his third of the season.

Brian Bruney, however, did not fare as well.  He gave up two runs on two hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning, surrendering Mike Jacobs' first homer of the season.  Jason Bergmann came on to end the inning with a strikeout.

The Nationals 2009 No. 1 overall draft pick, Stephen Strasburg, made his professional debut today for the Harrisburg Senators. He went five innings against the Altoona Curve, giving up one earned run (four total), on four hits and two walks, striking out eight on the day. He added an opposite field RBI double, his first professional hit. He threw 82 pitches, 55 for strikes.

The Nats' other first round pick from last season, Drew Storen, pitched the final inning for the save in the game.