Update: The Rays have officially announced the signing of Roberto Hernandez. The deal is for one year, $3.25 million with additional incentives tied to innings pitched and appearances. He will enter spring training as a starter, but could serve a role in the bullpen depending on what the roster looks like when camp begins.
Update: No terms have been announced, but it is worth noting that a piece last week indicated Hernandez wanted a one-year deal and “does not have any interest in pitching out of the bullpen.”
Dec. 12: The Rays are reportedly nearing an agreement with free-agent right-hander Roberto Hernandez (formerly known as Fausto Carmona), according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
Although the Rays’ plans for Hernandez are unknown, it’s easy to envision him as Burke Badenhop’s successor. Hernandez, now 32, spent five seasons in the Indians rotation before missing most of the 2012 season due to identity fraud-related punishment. He did pitch in three games for the Indians, albeit poorly, as he allowed 17 hits and 15 runs over 14 1/3 innings. Hernandez went on the disabled list in late August with a sprained right ankle and did not return.
When Hernandez is right, he rides a heavy low-to-mid-90s sinker that thrives in the lower third of the strike zone. His two secondary offerings, a slider and trapdoor changeup, sit in the mid-80s and miss plenty of bats. Still, Hernandez is not a strikeout pitcher. He succeeds by generating groundballs and limiting walks and extra-base hits.
Fernando Rodney’s name will pop up anytime the Rays sign a previously ineffective pitcher. Rest assured, the Rays are not going to move Hernandez to the first base side of the mound and have him set a league record for ERA—in part because Hernandez already throws from that side of the rubber. There are some things to look for in how the Rays handle Hernandez. For one, his mechanics are a little unusual. He has an open landing—meaning his plant foot lands further toward the first base side than his back foot—and his arm is used in a whip-like fashion. Perhaps the plan is to clean those mechanics up a little.
Another facet of Hernandez’s game the Rays could work with him on is the mental side. Scouts have not minced words over his meltdown tendencies. In June 2011, one said, “He’s slipped into most of his old bad habits: no command, letting innings get out of control, getting rattled on the mound. He’s a very frustrating pitcher. You know the talent is there, but he beats himself too many times.”
Two weeks later, another added, “He’s really killing that club. He’s leaving way too many pitches up in the zone for a sinkerball pitcher, and they’re getting crushed. He has no poise on the mound, either. The first time something goes wrong, he gets completely undone.” There is truth to the observations. Hernandez has a career .252/.328/.388 line against in situations with no one on base. That slash line jumps more than 80 points, to .294/.363/.432, once someone reaches. This is in a 949-inning sample, so it’s tough to write things off as random fluctuation and nothing more.
If the Rays can clean up Hernandez’s mechanics and/or mindset, he could be a nice fit for a team that loves to shift and figures to have one of the best defensive infields in the game.