He feared a trade in July. You could see it in Livan Hernandez’s eyes, the cameras and tape recorders rolling in front of him.

"I am a National," he’d say. "I want to be here for the new stadium."

When that stadium opens in 2008, many in the Nationals organization believe they’ll have a playoff-caliber team. But, after Monday’s waiver-wire trade, Hernandez won’t be on the hometown roster.

The Nationals returned last night to RFK Stadium for their first game without Hernandez. There were promising signs in the 4-2 loss to Florida — Ryan Church and Nick Johnson each hit a solo home run and Alfonso Soriano recorded his MLB-best 18th outfield assist in front of 24,992 fans — but the Nats could not produce against Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco (10-7), who pitched 6 1/3 innings and allowed only five hits.

Beyond this game, the uncertainty surrounding this franchise remains. Soriano is still out in left field, but what’s left for the Nationals in 2006? The team entered last night 17 1/2 games behind the division-leading New York Mets.

There are a few subplots yet to play out this season. Ryan Zimmerman is a candidate for Rookie of the Year. Soriano needs five more home runs and 12 stolen bases to reach the elusive 40-40 milestone.

But the Hernandez trade could cause more problems for manager Frank Robinson’s pitching staff. Tony Armas — who pitched six innings Tuesday, giving up nine hits and four runs in the loss — should be a fixture in the starting rotation through September, as should Ramon Ortiz and Pedro Astacio.

Beyond those three, it’s anyone’s guess. Billy Traber is scheduled to pitch Saturday; Friday’s starter has yet to be determined.

"It’s not going to be easy," catcher Brian Schneider said. "But these are the guys that are called upon, and these are the guys we’re going to be going with. So we’re going to have as much confidence in them as we can."

By trading away Hernandez, the Nationals lose their most reliable starter. He wasn’t dominating on the mound this year, as he compiled a 9-8 record and a 5.34 ERA. However, he did pitch at least 230 innings in each of three full seasons with the Expos/Nationals.

He didn’t have the most intimidating stuff in the majors, either. His fastball rarely reached 90 mph, and he threw his change-up so slow, even he could have outrun the pitch to home plate. Still, he was a veteran with big-game experience.

"You don’t just lose a guy like Livo and recover," Robinson said.

In the end, the Nationals did not see the Cuban exile-turned-World Series MVP in their long-term plans. It’s fitting, then, that next to his locker, he hung a poster from the movie "Scarface."

"When you get the money, you get the power," it read.

The Nationals owed Hernandez $15 million by the end of the 2007. Perhaps that was too much power for one player to wield.