Cagey Hernandez difficult to read

Ahh, Livo, Livo ... what troubles you so, my son?

The answer, as near as anyone can tell, is, "Who ever knows?" Livan Hernandez has always been a tough read, and may always be.

But his postgame lockerside chat Wednesday evening after getting beaten at home by Colorado was odd by any standard. He was quoted by an Associated Press reporter as saying, "I [haven't been] happy for three years. After the season, I'm going to tell you why. It's 99.9 percent I'm not going to pitch no more. I'm done, I think, so let's see what happens. ... I'll go to sleep and I'll make a decision tonight."

He later said, again according to the AP report, that he intends to have surgery on his right knee. "It's not the doctors. It's me. I'm the doctor. I don't need to, but I'm going to (have an operation). ... I'm tired of something. I'll tell you when the season's over. I'm mad."

And yet, he is quoted elsewhere as saying, "I love this team." Go figure.

But after having a day to cool off, Hernandez apparently had a change of heart. He won't have right knee surgery after all and will make his next start, ESPN The Magazine's Tim Kurkjian reported Thursday.

This, at a time when he is having the best season of his career, after his first All-Star appearance, and the undisputed ace of a team living the dream of unexpected success in a new city eager for anything it can get.

But this is Livan Hernandez we speak of here, and he has always been cagey with his opinions.

There is, apparently, some question as to whether he actually said he hadn't been happy in three years, and since he was essentially booed out of San Francisco for not being Jason Schmidt or Randy Johnson or Greg Maddux, one has to wonder what in fact he did mean.

All we really know is this: He has been among the most prolific pitchers in the game since 1998, when he broke out with Florida. Over the past six years (this one included), he has ranked in the top 10 in pitches thrown five times, and over the past four years has thrown more than 120 pitches 45 times. He is getting the ball pretty much when he wants it, and has to give it up only reluctantly.

So we guess, and guessing with Livan is always a dicey game.

Now if this was just another goofy Livo moment, we could start making cracks about players opting for surgery the way they used to ask for their contracts to be renegotiated. He was a hard guy to chart in San Francisco because his moods seemed to be guided as much by the tide, the plot line in The Sopranos, or the Nikkei index as anything baseball-related.

On the other hand, he is like many players in their mid-30s, having seen both the joys and jerkings of the baseball career, so every day isn't a happy Fizzies party the way it was in Florida back when he was helping win the World Series. He is older, more scarred, and more wary.

And he may have legitimate issues he just hasn't chosen to share with the studio audience yet.

Some guess that his knee is bothering him so much that his frustration bubbled over after a game in which he lost to the worst team in the National League, hit four batters and gave up a home run to a .216 hitter (J.D. Closser). Others think his ire might have been sparked by the release of Wil Cordero, with whom he was said to be close. And wilder speculators are ruminating that all those pitches over all those seasons are starting to give him that rented-mule feeling. Nobody in baseball has been worked like this over this period, with the singular possible exception of Randy Johnson.

Presumably he will clarify his position, after some helpful clarity-inspiring chats with general manager Jim Bowden and manager Frank Robinson. This would be a bad time for Hernandez to bow out, what with the Nationals holding on to the NL East lead by a hair and the offensive flaws showing more and more. They have scored more than four runs four times in 25 days, and not coincidentally have lost that lovin' feeling as the Braves continue their improbable march to their usual nesting place atop the division.

But even after he tells us what he says is in his heart, you can't be sure the story will be the same in a week. Cultural barriers ... caginess born of suspicion ... just a bad day at the plant ... whatever. Livan Hernandez is taking the Nats on one of those emotional little joy rides that he occasionally did in San Francisco and in Florida before that.

And apparently he'll make his start Tuesday because "99.9 percent" is a much more flexible number than it seems. And because Livan Hernandez is a lot more flexible than he seems, too.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com