Tampa Bay Rays’ Roberto Hernandez A Different Pitcher and Maybe Even A Better One
By Robbie Knopf
Fausto Carmona is gone. We remember him from his 19-win season in 2007 punctuated by a complete game 3-hitter against the Yankees in the American League Division Series. We remember his All-Star season of 2010, a year that saw him go over 200 innings for the second time. But we also remember of all the inconsistency is never was able able to get past. In his first six major league seasons, Carmona had those two nice seasons but had managed an ERA 5.25 or higher in each of the other four. He always had his electric mid-90’s sinker, but he was never able to miss enough bats to be successful on a regular basis, striking out just 5.4 batters per 9 innings while walking 3.4 per 9. But suddenly we discovered that it was all a lie- we didn’t watch Fausto Carmona pitch all those innings, but instead a man named Roberto Hernandez who was three years older than Carmona had claimed to be. What are we supposed to make of Hernandez now? He’s always been an enigmatic pitcher, and now he’s three years older than we thought he was. How did this guy get a major league contract from the Rays this offseason?
In a roundabout way, getting caught for a false identity gives Roberto Hernandez an opportunity for a fresh start. He gets to pitch without the weight of the web of lies he had become ensnared in ever becoming a factor. What’s done is done, and Hernandez gets to move on. But it isn’t just Hernandez’s identity that different now. He was forced to confront his past against his will when investigators found out who he really was. A few months later, though, Hernandez found a partner to help find a way to move on and move forward when the Rays offered him a contract. The Rays still don’t know for sure what they’re getting with Hernandez- but they see his potential, and they believe that he has a chance to be ever better than before.
"Gimenez said Hernandez’s change-up has improved so much he thinks it is now Hernandez’s best pitch.“He threw a couple of change-ups that just disappeared,” Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said."
No one ever denied that Roberto Hernandez’ sinker was an excellent pitch. The issue was always his secondary offerings that he never could locate consistently enough to give him the strikeouts he needed to sustain his success. But as catcher Chris Gimenez and pitching coach Jim Hickey told Roger Mooney of Tampa Bay Online, Hernandez has come along substantially with his changeup. According to Brooks Baseball, Hernandez is a pitcher who has thrown his sinker and four-seam fastball a combined 71% since 2007, including as high as 81% in 2008, and no matter how good a pitch is, if hitters see it often enough, they’ll adjust to it. His entire career, Hernandez has been trying to find another weapon to take some of the load of his fastball and keep hitters off-balance. Now, it looks like that has finally happened. Armed with his great sinker, impressive changeup, and also a decent slider, Hernandez still has something left as a major league starting pitcher- and there may just be some dominance left in him.
The Rays aren’t expecting Hernandez to suddenly get back to where he was in 2007- they are just hoping for him to be either an innings-eating 5th starter or to pitch in the role vacated by Wade Davis and be a versatile reliever who can pitch well in both long and short relief. Anything else he gives them him is gravy. Robrto Hernandez is finally in a place personally and professionally where he can simply relax. The expectations for him aren’t nearly as high as they once were and the disappointment he experienced for years has departed- after all, that was Fausto, not Roberto. While everyone has worried about Hernandez’s past, Hernandez and the Rays have kept their focus on his future. And by the time it’s all said and done, Roberto Hernandez has the ability to be a better, more consistent pitcher than Fausto Carmona could ever be.