Of course Roberto Hernandez had to make his first start in Class A on the same night as a truly incredible Indians game. While the Captains and West Michigan White Caps game didn’t exactly have the same number of thrills as the Indians and Detroit, it was still a great game. I was on the fence about heading out there all day today; I was worried about the weather, and I really wanted to watch Zach McAllister face off against Justin Verlander. At the same time, I just had to see Hernandez. I’ve been truly fascinated following this whole saga once it started in January, and I felt like I needed to see his first formal start in the United States after he was outed for his identity and age scandal.
So I headed out to Lake County, the team where Hernandez played as a young man (although not quite as young as we thought). When he pitched for the Captains in 2003, he went 17-4 with a 2.06 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 83 strikeouts over 24 games. He moved onto Kinston by the 2004 season and soon left Class-A baseball behind him forever (outside of the occasional rehab start). I know that Hernandez was on a throwing program while he was in the Dominican Republic, and was supposedly keeping in shape while exiled from the United States and the majors. I still wondered whether or not he’d be in shape; if he’d put on weight, or if he’d seem even more erratic than usual. As for his physique, he looked the same as he always has. When I saw him warming up in right field before the game, at first I thought he looked like he put on a ton of weight. Then I just realized that his uniform seemed abnormally large and that he really didn’t look any different. (He kept tugging at his giant pants, it’s like he hadn’t worn any for the past seven months).
The start of the game was delayed until about 8 p.m. due to rain, and then Hernandez took the mound. He wore number 48 and found a friendly crowd that seemed excited to see him. There were a lot of people who were wearing Carmona shirts and jerseys, but none had bothered to alter the “Carmona” to “Hernandez.” If you want to see a rundown of his batter by batter performance, just check the live blog post. I apologize for any shortage of facts, or typos, as I was writing all of that on my phone (which isn’t always the easiest thing to do). It was a pretty exciting game, and I thought that Hernandez performed reasonably well. He gave up a pretty big home run in the top of the first after a White Caps batter reached on an error. Those runs were tabbed as unearned, so he ended the night allowing 1 ER on 6 hits in 5 innings pitched. I know he’s playing at low-level Class-A, but it’s his first professional in-game action since he played in winter ball. What I thought was the most promising sign was the fact that he walked none and struck out four. Out of his 66 pitches, 44 were strikes. When Hernandez was at his best, he had solid control and few (if any) walks. Now because this is Hernandez we’re talking about, he could walk 20 and throw 10 wild pitches in his next start. He’s unpredictable, and at times, quite erratic. I think this is about the best we could’ve hoped for tonight, and I thought he looked solid overall.
Hernandez was the winning pitcher tonight as the Captains beat the White Caps 5-4. He will be eligible to pitch in the majors on August 11, and he’ll be making some more starts in the minors. There’s been no formal announcement whether the next one will be in Lake County, or if he’ll move up to Class-AA Akron.