There was a stretch between April 16-28 where Darwinzon Hernandez appeared in a grand total of one game for the Red Sox.
In that one game, which came against the Mariners on April 22, the left-handed reliever gave up four runs (three earned) on two hits, two walks, and one strikeout in the 10th inning of what would go down as a 7-3 loss for Boston. Three of those runs came on a three-run home run off the bat of Mitch Haniger.
“That home run he gave up against Seattle, I don’t want to say it was a wake-up call,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Friday. “But it was kind of like, ‘I need to attack hitters differently.'”
For a full week after that implosion, which raised his ERA on the year to an unsightly 5.14, Hernandez was not used for the remainder of the Sox’ series against the Mariners, nor was he used in their two-game set against the Mets in New York.
It was not until this past Thursday night that the 24-year-old was called upon again, as he took responsibility for the eighth inning in a game the Red Sox were trailing by three runs to the Rangers.
Matched up against Texas’ 3,4, and 5 hitters — Joey Gallo, Adolis Garcia, and Nate Lowe — Hernandez needed just 13 pitches (nine strikes) to punch out the side in order. He induced seven swings-and-misses in the process of getting all three of Gallo, Garcia, and Lowe to strike out swinging.
On Friday, Hernandez was once again deployed in the eighth inning against the Rangers, though this time his side had a five-run lead to work with.
Even with that lofty cushion, the Venezuelan hurler stayed on the aggressive side of things by thoroughly attacking the strike zone in the process of punching out three more batters.
He very well could have struck out the side in yet another perfect inning of relief, but an 0-2 fastball to Lowe with two outs that was very clearly a strike was ruled a ball by home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn. Lowe wound up reaching base on an infield single moments later.
So although he could not notch the 1-2-3 inning, Hernandez punched out the very next hitter he faced in Garcia on three straight strikes to retire the side.
“We talk about his fastball up in the zone,” Cora said. “Yesterday, he did it. He did it again today. He made a great pitch to the lefty that got a hit at the end (Lowe). It was a good pitch in the zone. It was called a ball. But, he’s slowing down now. The slider is playing. The fastball up in the zone is hard to hit.”
Following Friday’s showing, Hernandez lowered his ERA on the season to 4.00 through his first 10 outings and nine innings pitches of 2021.
Per Baseball Savant, the 6-foot-2, 244 pound southpaw currently ranks in the 99th percentile in whiff rate (44.8%). And as noted by Red Sox Stats, he is getting hitters to swing-and-miss at his fastball a major-league-best 50% of the time.
“If that guy throws the ball the way he did,” said Cora, “it’s going to put us in a great place with the bullpen.”
(Picture of Darwinzon Hernandez: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)