A's No. 4 prospect Hernaiz hopes first hit is start of great things

April 11th, 2024

ARLINGTON -- Two weeks must've felt like forever to A's infielder as he awaited his first Major League hit.

Often a late-game defensive substitution, the 22-year-old rookie had no hits in his first 10 MLB games dating back to Opening Day.

Finally, in the seventh inning of the Athletics' 6-2 loss to the Rangers at Globe Life Field, that was no longer the case.

Hernaiz's soft liner to center might've been catchable, but the Rangers' Leody Taveras had to field it on a hop. Upon reaching first base, Hernaiz raised both arms and turned his head skyward.

"Relief," Hernaiz said of his emotions at that moment. "I've been feeling not too bad at the plate, but I haven't had any success. It felt nice to actually see one fall. Now, hopefully, I go and get hot and keep hitting."

Ranked as Oakland's No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Hernaiz made the club's 2024 roster as a backup third baseman and shortstop. As a Minor Leaguer last season, he got plenty of opportunities at the plate, with 561 combined plate appearances at Double-A and Triple-A in 2023.

He racked up 160 total hits for a .321 average last year in the Minors. But this year, at-bats have been scarcer. Wednesday's game was only his fourth start of the season.

"He's in a role that he's not accustomed to," A's manager Mark Kotsay said. "He's not playing every day and he's been playing every day in the Minor Leagues, so it's an adjustment for the kid. Obviously, as the season wears on, and you don't get that first one, the pressure continues. So it was a big relief for him tonight to have one fall in."

If there's one thing out of character for Hernaiz at the big league level thus far, it's his strikeout rate. He struck out just 13.3 percent of the time in the Minors last year -- a little more than once every eight at-bats -- but has struck out five times in 13 plate appearances this season, including once Wednesday.

"I'm usually not a big strikeout guy and I've been striking out -- I feel like I'm kind of pressing a little bit, obviously," Hernaiz said. "But I'll just try to have fun and enjoy it and be myself -- I believe I'm good enough to be great in this league."

The ball Hernaiz hit for his first single was tucked away in his locker as he spoke.

For the A's, Hernaiz's single was one of nine hits against the Rangers. Tyler Nevin's RBI single in the first, along with Zack Gelof's solo homer in the eighth, accounted for the only A's runs.

Abraham Toro had a three-hit night, singling in the first, third and ninth innings, but the A's trailed from the end of the first inning to the conclusion after starter Ross Stripling fell behind, 3-1.

Stripling was touched up for 11 hits, although several were bloopers, infield hits or just out of reach of the A's defenders. Three walks -- including a leadoff walk in the Rangers' three-run fourth inning -- caused problems for Stripling, as all those batters scored.

"When he had to make pitches, he made pitches," Kotsay said. "Overall, the line's not great, but for him to go back out and pitch through the sixth inning, that says a lot. He had two innings where a couple hits fell in and hurt him, and I think that's just the story tonight."