When MLB spring training was suspended almost four months ago, one of the big stories in the Texas Rangers camp had been the spring performance of righthanded reliever Jonathan Hernandez.
Hernandez, who had moved from the rotation to multi-inning relief role while with Frisco last summer, and who was used out of the bullpen (or as an opener) after his promotion to the majors in August, was turning heads and generating excitement due to a combination of his impressive stuff and his improved command. Hernandez seemed to be a lock to be in the major league bullpen to start the 2020 season, and was viewed as a potential breakout guy who had a chance to be a weapon in the late innings this year.
Then the Coronavirus pandemic shut things down, players scattered as COVID-19 spread throughout the country, and baseball was in limbo. Hernandez spent his time with family in New York City, and was not able to maintain a throwing program like many of the Rangers’ other pitchers did. When he took the mound for yesterday’s abbreviated intra-squad game, one of the big questions was whether he would be able to continue the success he had in February and March.
Hernandez’s performance yesterday answered that question — he generated raves from everyone who watched as he struck out all four batters he faced, with Chris Woodward describing him as “absolutely filthy.” As one would expect he praised Hernandez’s “elite stuff,” but also marveled at his command.
Command has long been Hernandez’s big stumbling block — he has the stuff and the repertoire to be a quality starting pitcher, but the folks who doubted his ability to stay in the rotation felt he wouldn’t be able to maintain over the course of a starter’s outing the consistency of his delivery that would be necessary for him to stick in the rotation. Those command problems led to the Rangers moving Hernandez to the bullpen last summer.
And it appears that that transition has gone exceedingly well. Even after the layoff, Hernandez appears to be able to dominate, and the step forward with his command, together with needing to face just a few batters rather than go through a lineup two or three times, seems to have Hernandez in a great place right now.
The buzz in camp this spring was that Hernandez and lefty Taylor Hearn could combine to give the Rangers a dynamic right/left multi-inning combination in the bullpen for 2020. Hernandez is picking up where he left off, and could be a major force as the Rangers look to be contenders in this shortened 2020 season.