This spring training, Roberto Hernandez has stood out most for his uptick in strikeouts. Entering Thursday’s game, Hernandez had struck out 12 in 15 innings, a 7.2 K/9 solidly above his 5.4 K/9 for his MLB career and his 5.3 K/9 in his spring career. The reason for that has been a changeup as sharp as Hernandez has ever shown, something that bodes very well for him moving forward. But just because Hernandez has the ability to strike out a few more batters than we’re used to doesn’t mean that he can’t turn back the clock every once in a while. On Thursday, fans saw vintage Roberto Hernandez (or maybe more accurately “Vintage Fausto Carmona”) as Hernandez took the mound versus the Toronto Blue Jays in Port Charlotte.
In the first inning, Hernandez got Anthony Gose on a bunt back to the mound, allowed a groundball single, then got a double play ball off the bat of Jose Bautista to end the inning. The three balls on the ground proved to be the story of his outing. Hernandez went 6 innings allowing just 1 run on 3 hits, striking out 2 while walking 1 and managing a 13-4 groundball to flyball ratio. His only mistake of the game was a home run by Colby Rasmus in the 5th inning on a flat changeup left up in the zone. Hernandez threw just 66 pitches and certainly could have 7 innings if not more except for the fact that the Rays had three pitchers set to pitch after him. Hernandez kept hitters off-balance his entire outing and delivered an outstanding performance.
Hernandez had a great game, but he was essentially the only highlight of the game for the Rays. He was followed by Jamey Wright, Joel Peralta, and Jake McGee out of the bullpen, and Wright allowed a Jose Bautista homer leading off the 7th while Eugelio Velez went deep off of Peralta to begin the 8th. None of the three was sharp as they combined to allowed 5 hits and 2 walks while striking out just 1. Sometimes relievers come to the mound and simply don’t have it, and ironically the Rays wouldn’t have needed to use them had this game occurred during the regular season because Hernandez would have thrown 7 or 8 innings and saved the bullpen.
Offensively, there wasn’t much going on for the Rays. They collected just 6 hits all game, with the RBI being an infield single by James Loney in the 6th inning. Loney was the only player with multiple hits, going 2 for 3, while Evan Longoria had a double and a walk. Joe Maddon described the game as “the type we have to win during the regular season” because the Rays got such good starting pitching, but unfortunately between the lack of offense and sub-par effort by the bullpen, that couldn’t come together in this one.
The Rays drop to 14-10 in Grapefruit League play, 2.5 games back of the Baltimore Orioles for the best record in the League, but most importantly Hernandez looked great and players like Longoria and Loney did to a lesser extent as well. Today, the Rays have an action-packed schedule as they welcome the Orioles to Charlotte in one split-squad game and then head to Bradenton to play the Pirates in the other, and a radio broadcast of the Orioles game will be available on MLB.com.