Rays Notes: Roberto Hernandez Nails Down First Win Since 2011, Yunel Escobar Heats Up

By Robbie Knopf

From the very beginning of spring training, Roberto Hernandez‘s arsenal looked impressive. Between his low-90’s sinker with overbearing movement, dynamic changeup, and sharp slider, Hernandez looked every bit like the pitcher who won 19 games for the Cleveland Indians in 2007. But while his pure stuff looked great, his results just could never match the quality of his repertoire. In spring training, he manged just a 5.33 ERA, and he was even worse in his first three starts of the regular season, going just 0-3 with a 5.79 ERA. What was missing? There are a variety of ways to answer to that question, but the principal factor could very well have been confidence. After not winning a single major league start since September 20, 2011, something was missing from Hernandez, and whenever things began to go wrong, he first thought crossing his mind had to be “here we go again.” But on Sunday, he finally got that first win in way too long in the books, tossing 6 innings of 1-ball against the Oakland A’s, including working out of major jams in the 4th and 5th innings, and after the game Hernandez was ecstatic to finally get back in the win column and Joe Maddon believed that it could be a turning point for Hernandez this season.

"“It feels very, very, very great,” Hernandez said.“I really think that’s something for him to build off of,” Maddon said. “Because if he hasn’t won a major-league game since 2011, I’m sure the confidence needed a booster, and that was a big booster shot right there.”"

It’s amazing luxury for the Rays to have a pitcher of Hernandez’s caliber in the 5th spot in their rotation, and if he can even come close to living up to the standard set by his electric stuff, the one-year contract the Rays signed him to will look like a steal by the end of the year.

Also standing out in Sunday’s game was Yunel Escobar, who broke out of his season-long slump with a home run, a double, and a single. It was the culmination of a weeks of effort gone unrealized and Escobar was thrilled to help the Rays win.

"“Since last year you see some hitters go through some struggles sometimes,” Escobar said through Joel Peralta, who served as his translator. “I’m trying to get better because I want to help this team win games.”"

If this can be the start of something for Escobar, he has the ability to be as good of an all-around shortstop as the Rays have seen since Jason Bartlett in 2009, and a major improvement to the production or lack thereof that the Rays have gotten from the position the last two years. A bad beginning to the season doesn’t change Escobar’s talent, and it’s exciting to see what he can do.