Who believed in Livan Hernandez when the Mets signed him to a minor league deal?  That’s not very many hands.  But now Mets fans are singing we shall be Livan.

With Wednesday’s five IP, one-run outing versus the Braves, Livan Hernandez has now pitched more innings (14.2) and has a lower ERA (3.07) than the top 16 most-used pitchers in camp.  Hernandez has also all but sewn up the fifth starter’s job.

Entering Spring Training, Hernandez would have been called a darkhorse candidate for the starting rotation.  The odds-on favorite was Tim Redding, he of the guaranteed contract.  The popular pick outside of Redding would have been Freddy Garcia, who was a top-notch hurler until injuries curtailed him a few years back.  And there were those who thought Jon Niese should get the job.

But Hernandez?  He was so bad last year he was released by the Twins and he was even worse once picked up by the Rockies.  His K/9 plummeted to 3.35 last season and batters posted a .345 BABIP versus him.  Hernandez threw more fastballs last year but he averaged just 83.7 mph with his heater, the third-slowest mark among all hurlers in the majors.

Recently, Hernandez has been slowed by knee problems, but he claims he is 100 percent healthy now.  He also said that he could have gone longer than the five innings he pitched versus Atlanta.

In today’s New York Post, Bart Hubbuch had an angle that we all should have considered when handicapping the fifth-starter’s race at the beginning of camp.  Hubbuch pointed out the ties between manager Jerry Manuel and Hernandez – they were both members of the 1997 World Champion Marlins.

Hernandez was the young Cuban import who won nine games during the regular season and then went 4-0 during the post-season en route to winning both the NLCS and World Series MVP Awards.  Manuel was Jim Leyland’s bench coach that season before being named manager of the White Sox the following year.

So, if Hernandez pitched well, he probably had a leg up on the other newcomers (Redding and Garcia) with whom the manager had no previous ties.  But the competition has been so one-sided until this point that no one can complain that the outcome was rigged.

The Mets will not need a fifth starter until mid April, so the club will likely carry seven relievers to start the season until they need Hernandez.  With Redding an option to open the season on the disabled list and Garcia and Niese likely to be in Triple-A, there could be as many as three bullpen slots up for grabs right now.

Bobby Parnell, Nelson Figueroa, Connor Robertson, Kyle Snyder, Brian Stokes, Brandon Knight and Casey Fossum are among those challenging for the spots.  Fossum is the only lefty in the group and his chances were undoubtedly helped with the signing of free agent Joe Beimel by the Nationals.

But the seventh reliever will only be keeping the spot warm for Hernandez, who has made 30 or more starts in 11 straight seasons.

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