The Red Sox needed to clear a spot on their 40-man roster in order to make the signing of infielder/designated hitter Justin Turner official on Friday afternoon. They cleared that spot by designating reliever Darwinzon Hernandez for assignment.
Hernandez, 26, originally signed with the Red Sox for just $7,500 as an international free agent coming out of Venezuela in August 2013. Despite receiving a modest signing bonus, it did not take the left-hander all that long to establish himself as arguably the top pitching prospect in Boston’s farm system.
Heading into the 2019 season, Hernandez was ranked by Baseball America as the Red Sox’ No. 3 overall prospect. The Bolivar native made his major-league debut that April before making his first career start against the Rangers less than two months later.
Hernandez spent another month in the minor-leagues before being recalled again in mid-July. In 27 appearances out of Boston’s bullpen from that point forward, Hernandez posted a 4.32 ERA — but much more respectable 2.81 FIP — with 46 strikeouts to 20 walks over 25 innings of relief.
On the heels of a relatively strong rookie campaign, it appeared as though Hernandez had momentum heading into 2020. But a bout with COVID-19 in July and a left AC joint sprain in August limited him to just seven outings (8 1/3 innings) during the pandemic-shortened season.
To his credit, Hernandez bounced back in 2021 by making a career-high 48 relief appearances. While his 3.38 ERA and 29.7 strikeout rate were undoubtedly solid, Hernandez did walk 31 batters in 40 innings of work, which led to him having a 4.80 FIP.
With those discouraging peripherals in mind, Hernandez was left off Boston’s Opening Day roster last April and began the 2022 season with Triple-A Worcester. The burly lefty then sustained a torn right meniscus in May that required surgery. After a lengthy recovery period, he returned to the Red Sox in July but struggled to the tune of a 21.60 ERA (16 earned runs in 6 2/3 innings) before being sent back down in August.
Hernandez did not fare much better with the WooSox down the stretch, as he yielded nine runs (eight earned) with 10 strikeouts to nine walks across nine appearances (eight innings) through the end of the minor-league season. He returned to his home country this offseason and produced a 3.86 ERA in 19 outings (16 1/3 innings) for the Cardenales de Lara of the Venezuelan Winter League, but he still issued nine walks to the 74 batters he faced in that time frame.
Given his well-documented control issues (32.3 percent career walk rate in 85 1/3 big-league innings) , it seems as though the Red Sox were ready to move on from Hernandez if the occasion arose, as it did on Friday. Boston will now have the next seven days to either trade, release, or waive Hernandez and keep him in the organization without committing a 40-man roster spot to him.
Hernandez, for his part, does not turn 27 until next December and still has one minor-league option remaining. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound southpaw also possesses upside in the form a high-octane four-seam fastball, a mid-80s slider, and a high-70s curveball. Taking all those factors into consideration, Hernandez could very well draw interest from a team in need of bullpen depth and be traded or claimed off waivers in the coming days.
Regardless of his fate, though, Hernandez becomes the latest in a long line of Red Sox players to be cut from the club’s 40-man roster this winter, joining the likes of Eric Hosmer, Jeter Downs, Tyler Danish, Eduard Bazardo, Abraham Almonte, Franchy Cordero, and Yu Chang.
After removing Hernandez and adding Turner on Friday, the Red Sox’ 40-man roster is still at full capacity. They will need to clear another spot once the signing of veteran starter Corey Kluber is made official.
(Picture of Darwinzon Hernandez: Elsa/Getty Images)