PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Livan Hernandez strengthened his grip on the No. 5 spot in the New York Mets' rotation with five strong innings Wednesday in a 7-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves.
Hernandez scattered five hits and allowed just one run, striking out three. The right-hander lowered his ERA to 3.07 in 142/3 innings this spring.
'(Hernandez) was pretty good,' Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. 'He has a good presence about him on the mound, and in the dugout he brings a different energy. He's put himself in a good position.'
Relying primarily on his sinker, Hernandez came nowhere close to his pregame pitch count of 85 before handing a 2-1 lead to Freddy Garcia in the sixth.
Hernandez credited former Dodgers and Giants pitching coach Ron Perranoski with teaching him the sinker while he was with San Francisco in 2003.
'The way I'm throwing now, the ball is coming out of my hand easy,' Hernandez said. 'Every pitch is working. I'm just trying to get people out early with the sinker.'
Garcia (0-3) struggled again, allowing five runs and seven hits in two innings, raising his spring ERA to 16.71.
'(Garcia's) in a tough spot,' Manuel said. 'But the good thing is he's healthy and you're happy to see that.'
Hernandez's consistency this spring seems to be distancing him from the competition in the race for the final spot in the rotation.
Tim Redding, the only candidate in camp on a major league contract, will start the season on the disabled list, while rookie Jonathan Niese, who is 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA, and Garcia have yet to pitch to the level of Hernandez.
A pair of prospects led the Braves. Jordan Schafer went 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run, while starting pitcher Tommy Hanson allowed three hits and two unearned runs in four innings to lower his spring ERA to 2.45.
Martin Prado also had two hits, including a three-run homer against Garcia in the sixth.
Fernando Tatis provided an offensive spark for the Mets, a two-run homer off Hanson in the first. Andy Green added a two-run shot in the ninth off Zach Schreiber.
Notes: Mets 1B Carlos Delgado returned briefly to camp, dropping off his luggage before leaving. Meanwhile, pitchers Nelson Figueroa and Pedro Feliciano were in the locker room, less than 24 hours after Puerto Rico's 6-5 loss to Mets teammate David Wright and the United States in the World Baseball Classic. 'It was a lot of fun and the atmosphere was very jovial,' Figueroa said. 'It wasn't like spring training where you just go out and get your work in. These were serious games. The chemistry we had in the clubhouse carried us. We all had the common goal of playing for our country.'