By Saturday night, Hernández had decided he will not play this season because of COVID-19 concerns.
“I haven’t talked to him directly yet,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He worked out yesterday, threw a side [session], went home, and I found out actually this morning.”
Hernández’s decision came after the Braves announced on Saturday that Freddie Freeman was one of the team’s four players who had tested positive for COVID-19.
Snitker believes the revelations of these positive tests, combined with the challenges players face to adhere to the strict and necessary safety protocols, may have led to Hernández’s decision. The 34-year-old pitcher was set to make a little less than $400,000 if he earned a spot on Atlanta’s roster.
“I think it’s going to be ongoing,” Snitker said. “It’s way, way different. Everybody told us it would be, but until you live it, I don’t think you know it. Guys come in and there are outbreaks. I think it’s only human nature to process these things, because you’ve got family members involved and children. Things like that aren’t a reality until we get here and live it.”
Hernández signed a Minor League contract in January and was bidding for a spot in Atlanta’s starting rotation. The righty was attempting to extend a successful career that has been beset by injuries over the past few years.
Though he is no longer the overpowering pitcher who won the 2010 AL Cy Young Award and earned six All-Star selections with the Mariners, Hernández showed promise when he allowed just three runs over 13 2/3 innings before Spring Training was shut down in the middle of March.
“He was doing exactly what we had asked him to do, which was get guys out,” Snitker said. “He didn’t do anything to not warrant making our club in the spring.”
With Hernández deciding not to play, there is now an even better chance Sean Newcomb will get work as a starter this year. The Braves' projected rotation now consists of Mike Soroka, Cole Hamels, Mike Foltynewicz, Max Fried and Newcomb.
Even with Hernández out of the picture, the Braves still plan to use a piggyback system with their starting pitchers during the season’s first couple of weeks. This means the starters will be limited to 3-4 innings and be replaced by a reliever, who will be slated to complete 2-3 innings.
"We have plenty of guys,” Snitker said. “We’re going to stretch these guys out with their simulated games, live [batting practices] and intrasquad games. I think our depth is really strong and we can withstand a little.”