The Red Sox made a surprising decision on Saturday when they elected to option left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez to Triple-A Worcester.
Hernandez, 25, has been a key figure in Boston’s bullpen since debuting for the Sox in 2019. Over the last three seasons, his 83 relief appearances rank sixth on the team behind only Matt Barnes (154), Josh Taylor (120), Ryan Brasier (99), Brandon Workman (99), and Marcus Walden (85).
While Hernandez has primarily been used as a reliever throughout his big-league career, the Red Sox sent the Venezuelan-born southpaw down to Triple-A with a plan in place to start games for the WooSox.
When speaking with reporters at JetBlue Park on Sunday, Sox manager Alex Cora revealed that Hernandez will likely start for the WooSox this coming Tuesday in their Opening Day bout against the Jumbo Shrimp in Jacksonville. Though labeled as a starter, Hernandez is only expected to work two to three innings per start and will use the days in between his starts to work on the side.
“I think the plan for him is actually he’s going to start probably Opening Day in Jacksonville, but he’ll go two or three innings,” explained Cora. “The goal is for him to work in between starts or in between outings. He hasn’t been able to do that in years. It wasn’t a comfortable conversation because we know what he can do. But the goal is for him to work with (Worcester pitching Paul Abbott) in between starts and try to be consistent.”
After making his first career Opening Day roster last year, Hernandez appeared in 48 games for the Red Sox and posted a 3.38 ERA (4.80 FIP) to go along with 54 strikeouts to 31 walks over 40 innings of work.
Among the 54 left-handed relievers who accrued at least 40 innings in 2021, Hernandez ranked seventh in strikeouts per nine innings (12.2) and 11th in strikeout rate (29.7%). But he also ranked 53rd in walks per nine innings (7.0) and 53rd in walk rate (17%), per FanGraphs.
That Hernandez was erratic at times last year is nothing new. He has proven more than capable of getting hitters out at the big-league level, but he has done so on an inconsistent basis.
“Yeah, you’re a big leaguer, we know that,” Cora said of Hernandez. “But to be the big leaguer we envision, we need to find consistency and that’s what he is missing right now. We can’t go with the up and down. He dominates in Texas and he struggles for a few weeks. We don’t want that. When he’s ready, he’ll be ready. We know he’s going to contribute. There’s a few decisions based on that. There’s a few decisions as far as who we are facing this month. Do we need more righties? All of a sudden, we’ve got a lot of lefties on our staff. And they’re really, really good. But we’re still getting there.”
While Hernandez will start the season in Worcester instead of in Boston, Cora emphasized that the results or numbers Hernandez puts up with the WooSox are not as important as the work he will put in between his outings.
“We want him to pitch and then we want him to work,” the manager said. “The last one here, three innings and everyone was ecstatic. He did the job. But it’s not about that. He can even struggle for three innings and all of a sudden you will see him here. It’s about the work he will be putting in between outings, which is the most important thing for us.”
One thing in particular Cora would like to see Hernandez work on in Worcester is his delivery. When discussing Hernandez’s approach on the mound, Cora noted that the lefty can be overpowering when he works up in the zone with his fastball. The same can be said about Brewers closer Josh Hader. When Hernandez misses with his fastball, though, that is when he becomes susceptible to walks and other forms of damage.
“But at the end, we want him to throw fastballs up and breaking balls down and be consistent with it,” Cora said. “When he throws the fastball up, there is no damage. You guys can look at it. Fastballs up and breaking balls down. I hate to compare guys but like (Josh) Hader. It’s very simple. Fastballs up and breaking balls down. And he can do that.
“The characteristics of his fastballs, he gets swings and misses,” added Cora. “He gets foul balls. There’s no loud contact. But when he gets a fastball down, we see the results, too. So it’s just a matter of him being consistent, repeat his delivery over and over and over again. And we do believe he’s going to contribute at one point this season. He’s going to be a big part of this team.”
(Picture of Darwinzon Hernandez: Rich Schultz/Getty Images)