Darwinzon Hernandez

Darwinzon Hernandez: 'I’m ready' to be a starter

Darwinzon Hernandez: 'I’m ready' to be a starter

The Boston Red Sox have serious concerns with their pitching staff. With Chris Sale out for the long haul after undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox are down to just a few known commodities among their starting rotation.

Eduardo Rodriguez will be the team's ace. Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez will follow him in the rotation. But the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are a bit harder to predict.

Before Sale's surgery and before the MLB shut down operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed like Ryan Weber was the leading candidate to earn a job in the back end of the rotation. If he's the fourth starter, that will leave the Sox with just one hole to fill in the fifth starter slot.

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And one possibility for that role would be Darwinzon Hernandez. The left-hander pitched in 29 games for the Red Sox last season logging a 4.45 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings pitched. Hernandez only made one start for the Sox, but he considers himself to be a starter at the MLB level. 

"Everyone knows I’d love to start. Absolutely," Hernandez said, per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. "That is what every pitcher wants and I still feel like I can do it. I enjoyed being a reliever and I’ll do whatever the team asks. The important thing is to be on the team. But, yes, I want to start."

Hernandez was a starter during his time in the minor leagues and has started at least 12 games per season since 2015. The 23-year-old still has a lot of upside and he believes that he's ready to take on a starting job.

"I’m ready. I’ve matured as [a] pitcher,” Hernandez said through a translator. "In the minors, I would just throw but when I got to the majors, they taught me how to pitch and the importance of working hard and locating your pitches, mixing your pitches. I learned how to pitch and not just throw."

Of course, the decision will ultimately come down to Ron Roenicke. And the Sox skipper at least seemed open to Hernandez battling for a starting job before spring training was shut down.

"You have to consider [starting Hernandez]," Roenicke said last month, per Abraham. "He’s still a young pitcher and there’s a lot to work with. I could see us looking at this again and giving him a chance to start."

Hernandez will have some competition for that final spot. The Red Sox did sign Collin McHugh after Sale's setback. The former Houston Astros pitcher could be a starter or bullpen arm, but he'll have to get healthy first. He was battling an elbow injury upon joining the team and it's unclear exactly when he'll return to action.

The team could also choose to use the opener strategy that the Tampa Bay Rays have popularized in recent seasons. Could that involve Hernandez playing that role? Or being the "bulk" guy to take on innings once the opener is done? It's surely possible.

It's tough to know what the Red Sox are going to do with their rotation. They'll likely have to mix and match things if and when the season does begin. But that could be a while away.

For the time being, Roenicke will have more time to think about just how he wants his pitching staff to shake out. And with rosters to be expanded in wake of the pandemic, per Joel Sherman of The New York Post, Roenicke may opt to try a few different solutions before settling on his preferred option.

Why pitching-deprived Red Sox plan to keep Darwinzon Hernandez in bullpen

Why pitching-deprived Red Sox plan to keep Darwinzon Hernandez in bullpen

On a Red Sox staff desperate for high-upside starters, Darwinzon Hernandez practically screams for attention.

The flame-throwing left-hander opened eyes in relief last season after a minor league career as a starter, but manager Ron Roenicke reiterated on Monday that he sees the 23-year-old in the bullpen.

"I think everybody knows that he's got a possibility down the road to be a starter, but right now we want him really confident," Roenicke told reporters in Fort Myers. "He made big steps last year when he came up with us."

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The knock on Hernandez in the minors was spotty command and inconsistent focus, but both of those problems were rendered irrelevant in a figurative hail of bullets.

Hernandez became the first pitcher in history to walk more than seven batters per nine innings while still posting a strikeout-to-walk ratio of at least 2-to-1. So while his 26 walks in 30.1 innings were a cause for concern, his 57 strikeouts (16.9 per 9) more than compensated. He went 0-1 with a 4.45 ERA overall.

"His command was, I thought, really good last year," Roenicke told reporters. "He had one game where I thought emotionally it kind of got away from him, but he was doing that quite a bit in the minor leagues, so I think the jump from last year has everybody feeling great about him."

Hernandez departed camp recently to attend to a death in the family. It's not expected to impact his readiness for Opening Day, but it may affect — at least in the early going — how stretched out he is, particularly if the Red Sox want to use him as the second arm in an opener strategy.

"He could be a two-inning guy," Roenicke said. "We could keep pushing him and make him three innings if we need him, and depending on what we do with that fifth spot in the rotation, he could be one of those guys we use as an opener or the second guy who comes in after an opener."

Blessed with an upper-90s fastball and developing slider, Hernandez has the stuff to be a future closer. But the Red Sox aren't closing the door on his starting career.

"As a starter, your makeup has to be a lot different because you've got to be able to bounce back from innings," Roenicke said. "As a reliever, you're out of the game. If he succeeds, the confidence will grow. And I think down the road, that may allow him to be a starter."

Turns out Red Sox didn't need Edwin Diaz after all, because bullpen suddenly boasts legit weapons

Turns out Red Sox didn't need Edwin Diaz after all, because bullpen suddenly boasts legit weapons

BOSTON -- Barely a month ago, we were supposed to seriously entertain the question of whether the Red Sox should trade Andrew Benintendi to the Mets for closer Edwin Diaz.

Those of us with some common sense noted that potential All-Star outfielders, even ones in the middle of relatively down seasons such as Benintendi, should never, under any circumstances, be traded for a reliever. After failing to acquire a single bullpen arm at the trade deadline, Red Sox boss Dave Dombrowski insisted that the relief corps was better than we thought.

Six weeks later, with Diaz blowing saves left and right -- his latest a tying two-run homer to Philly's J.T. Realmuto on Friday in a game the Mets won anyway -- it's worth noting that the Red Sox bullpen has actually turned out to be pretty good, with a number of young arms emerging as viable options for Alex Cora's 2020 pen.

(Before we go any further, this does *not* change the fact that shoddy relief put the Red Sox in an early hole from which they never really extricated themselves. The time to address their relief shortcomings was June; had the relievers pitched like this all season, we wouldn't be looking at a missed playoff berth.)

Those arms were on display on Friday, when manager Alex Cora rode seven pitchers who weren't even on the Opening Day roster to a 6-1 victory over the Yankees. It just further cemented the team's commitment to bullpenning to the finish line, and it turns out there may be a silver lining to rostering 21 arms, because the Red Sox have unearthed some potential contributors.

First and foremost, there's left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez. A starter throughout the minors, the 22-year-old shifted to the bullpen this summer and has made a legitimate impact.

A National League scout who has evaluated him at three different levels this season was concise in his assessment.
"Wow," he said. "Wow. His stuff really plays in the bullpen. He doesn't have to worry about setting guys up for the second or third time through the order. He's just attacking."

While command can be an issue -- and certainly was as a starter in the minors -- Hernandez's stuff is absurd. He tossed a scoreless inning on Friday night Yankees and entered the day with 62 swings and misses within the strike zone, which suggests dominance.

He pairs a 97-99 mph fastball with a sharp slider and has struck out 55 in only 29.2 innings, or nearly 17 per nine. He has mostly shelved the curveball and changeup he needed as a starter, living primarily on his dominating fastball, which has overwhelmed left-handed hitters, in particular.

"I like this guy," Cora said recently. "I like what he's doing right now. Obviously we'll talk about it in the offseason but right now, he's one of the high-leverage relievers on our team. He's a guy who can get lefties and righties out. He has a good mix and he's actually enjoying it. He likes it. He's up to the challenge. He's durable too. Obviously, you have to be careful because there's more than this year. This guys is a big part of what we're trying to do as an organization and be consistent every year and compete for a World Series and he's part of that."

He's not alone. Left-hander Josh Taylor, acquired from the Diamondbacks as a player to be named later last season for light-hitting shortstop Deven Marrero, has taken his opportunity and run with it. He doesn't throw quite as hard as Hernandez, but he's consistently 94-96 mph and with a scoreless inning on Friday, he dropped his ERA below 3.00 to 2.93.

Not bad for an undrafted free agent already in his third organization at age 26.

Add Marcus Walden, another success story despite being a 30-year-old rookie who kicked around the minors for 12 years, and the bullpen looks like it has some workable pieces for 2020. The aforementioned trio has earned Cora's trust alongside veterans Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman, which means a case can be made that the Red Sox really only need to add one high-leverage pitcher this winter, be it a closer or setup man.

Edwin Diaz? Who needs him. Since his name entered trade rumors in late July, the former Mariners All-Star has posted an ERA slightly over 9.00 and blown three saves, including New York's most crushing loss of the year when he served up the walk-off, three-run homer to Washington this week.

It doesn't take Andrew Benintendi to patch a bullpen, just some patience.

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