Roberto Hernandez (aka Fausto Carmona) will make his first start in the majors this season against the Angels in a few short minutes. This comes almost eight months to the day after he was arrested in the Dominican Republic and charged with using a false identity. At the time, there was debate over whether or not he would be able to return to the United States at all this season, or if he’d ever wear an Indians uniform again. Hernandez was finally cleared to re-enter the country last month, and served a suspension while he made starts at the minor league level. The Indians had picked up his $7 million option in the offseason, but the team renegotiated the deal with Hernandez to pay him less money. He already went unpaid while on the restricted list, and the team hoped that the salary agreement may lead to less harsh punishment from Major League Baseball.
So while we saw him pitch over the past few weeks, it’s still a complete mystery as to how Hernandez will perform in his first major league action in almost a year. To be fair, aren’t all of Hernandez’s starts, to some degree, kind of a mystery? I joked on Facebook and Twitter earlier that each Hernandez start is kind of like selecting the mystery box. Sometimes there’s an awesome prize in the mystery box. Other times, you end up with a Hall and Oats CD. In my opinion, there’s never been a pitcher that’s more of an enigma from start to start. It just seemed almost ironic that if anyone was accused of a dual identity, it was Carmona/Hernandez, the one player that seemed to be two different pitchers. There’s also never been a pitcher that I’ve simultaneously loved and hated as much as Hernandez. I really want to see him succeed, but I’d also like to strangle him. Hernandez has a ridiculous curve ball, that can just destroy hitters when it’s working properly. When it doesn’t work, the ball is flat and right over the plate, or he’s so erratic it’s as if he doesn’t understand he’s supposed to put the ball in the catcher’s glove. He seems to gain more weight with each passing season, and some have speculated that he’s packed on a few pounds during his extended offseason vacation.
I’ll admit that while I’ve been waiting for Hernandez’s return to the majors, I found myself thinking that maybe he’d be “fixed” since his secret was now in the open. When he was shipped off to Arizona to work on his “mental issues” a few years ago a number of fans (myself included) seemed to think that if he could just keep his head on straight, his problems would be solved. There’s never been a player that causes me to play amateur psychologist like Hernandez does. I analyze all of his starts, and wonder what went wrong; if there was something that negatively impacted his mental state to send him into a tailspin. It’s as if I just want to find an explanation how he can be lights-out during one start, yet an absolute train wreck five days later. He’s obviously pitching against different lineups, but on some of his bad days he’s so wild it’s as if he doesn’t even realize a player is standing in the batter’s box. Indians fans often find themselves saying “what if Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner are healthy for an entire year?” You can wrap your head around that wish, no matter how unrealistic it may seem. When Hernandez looks healthy, your brain automatically tries to figure out what’s wrong. Something has to be wrong, right? Nobody is that talented and awful all at the same time (or so I tell myself).
I mentioned in a piece I wrote earlier this year that I don’t hate Hernandez for his deceit. I don’t place players that are deceptive about their age into the same group as those that use performance enhancing drugs. In my opinion (and there are many that disagree) a player lies about his age just to get his foot in the door. He uses PEDs to gain an advantage once he’s in the door. No matter how maddening he is, I do believe that Hernandez belongs in the majors. Teams wouldn’t have looked twice at him if they learned he was three years older than they believed. His major contract (no matter how big of a mistake it may be) was signed based on his performance after he already arrived in the majors. Someone like Melky Cabrera took PEDs in order to gain an upper hand and score a bigger contract next year. Some don’t see much of a difference between the two, but I feel differently about the subject.
Sadly, I think this is probably the best time for Hernandez to make a comeback. The Indians’ season is pretty much over, and the starting pitching has been absolutely dreadful. If he has one of his famous disaster starts, will anyone even bat an eye at this point? After Derek Lowe, Josh Tomlin, Ubaldo Jimenez, and even Justin Masterson (to a degree) I’ve almost come to expect 3-5 runs surrendered in the first inning or two. If Hernandez does the same tonight, will anyone be surprised? Angry? Or will they think “just more of the same?” Even though my expectations are low for tonight’s game, I’m honestly cheering for Hernandez. I still believe what I said in January, that I hope he’s able to write an epilogue to his personal story as Roberto Hernandez. There’s just something about him that is inherently likable and I really want to see him succeed.