Hernandez cool under playoff pressure

Hernandez cool under playoff pressure

CHICAGO -- Livan Hernandez has long had the reputation of being a "big-game pitcher," a label he first earned as a baby-faced 22-year-old in 1997 when he was selected MVP of the World Series while with the Marlins.

And while winning four games during the postseason that year -- including two during the World Series against Cleveland -- might have looked easy enough, that certainly was not the case, as far as Hernandez was concerned.

"You know, it's more difficult," Hernandez said. "When I'm 21 years old and in Florida ... God, like 65,000, 68,000 people. Now it's more easy."

That's what the Diamondbacks are counting on, as Hernandez gets the start in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Cubs on Saturday at Wrigley Field. With a victory, Arizona would complete a sweep of the best-of-five series.

Arizona manager Bob Melvin feels that Hernandez -- who is 6-2 with a 3.99 ERA in 10 postseason games in his career -- is the right guy to finish off the Cubs, who haven't had much luck against Diamondbacks starters Brandon Webb and Doug Davis thus far.

Hernandez's counterpart on Saturday, Cubs left-hander Rich Hill, does not have anywhere near the experience Hernandez does -- nine consecutive seasons with 200-plus innings -- or his blissful run in the postseason.

And don't think Melvin didn't have Hernandez's impressive postseason resume in mind when he put together his rotation for this series.

"That was one of the factors when we set up our rotation," Melvin said. "We know that Livo has been through this before and isn't afraid to pitch on the road. [He's] the one guy, at least with our rotation, that's had some experience in the postseason, has been the MVP of a World Series, has pitched a seventh game.

"Every time Livo takes the ball, we have confidence in him. He has got that kind of aura about him, that he's afraid of nothing and not a whole lot bothers him."

That certainly has been evident during his career, as he's been successful about everywhere he's pitched -- Florida, San Francisco, Montreal, Washington, and now Arizona. For his career, Hernandez has won 134 games.

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He's saved some of his best work for the postseason, especially in 1997 when Hernandez was named MVP of the NLCS and later the World Series. He defeated Orel Hershiser in the World Series twice.

He also appeared in the postseason in 2000 with San Francisco and then, two years later, he was back in the World Series with the Giants.

"This situation, I think, is great. You've got a chance to win and pass to the second level," Hernandez said. "I like to be in this situation -- you know, go and concentrate on whatever you've got to do. It's time you've got to be a man. It's no time to think like a kid."

Hernandez went 11-11 with a 4.93 ERA for the Diamondbacks in 33 starts in 2007. He didn't finish strong, going 2-2 with a 6.67 ERA in five September starts. He didn't face the Cubs this season but is 10-6 with a 4.02 ERA in 19 career starts.


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And while pitching in front of a frenzied crowd, like the one Hernandez expects to see on Friday at Wrigley Field, isn't for everyone, the 32-year-old right-hander is ready to fully embrace it.

"You know, it's great when you've got to be in this situation. The stadium is going to be packed and crazy and people screaming," Hernandez said. "I think it's great for baseball. I love it. It's something I like, seeing the people screaming. It's something I'm looking for."

The key to Hernandez's success is working the corners and mixing his pitches, though he certainly leans heavily on a big, looping curveball that he isn't afraid to throw in any count.

"One thing about Livo is you can throw the scouting reports out. He's going to pitch his game," Melvin said. "He knows the opponent, and he knows how he's going to attack. But more importantly, he has to go to his strengths.

"But Livo is going to go out there and do his thing. We don't want him throwing his third pitch to a guy just because a guy can't hit a pitch. He's going to throw to his strength, and that never changes with Livo."

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