Hernández snaps HR drought, gets silent treatment

Utility man's 1st HR since Aug. 26, 2021 breaks 3rd-longest active homerless streak

September 4th, 2022

NEW YORK -- A hush came over the cheering Nationals dugout as César Hernández crossed home plate and headed down the steps to rejoin his team. The disciplined silence lasted around 25 seconds before the players and staff erupted into jubilation a second time to celebrate Hernández’s long-awaited first home run of the season.

“I felt bad, actually, I really did when I do that,” manager Dave Martinez said following the Nationals’ 7-1 win over the Mets on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field. “Three pitches in, I told [bench coach Tim Bogar], ‘I’ve just got to say something to him.’ So I went over and started screaming at him, and then the team came over. But man, he’s waited the whole year for that one, and I’m happy for him.”

In his 546th plate appearance of the season, Hernández overcame an 0-2 count in a five-pitch at-bat against reliever Trevor Williams to send a 92 mph fastball a Statcast-estimated 398 feet into right field at 100.8 mph. The two-run dinger had a .410 expected batting average.

“I’m extremely happy to get the first one out of the way,” said Hernández. “Hopefully, I find some more consistency the rest of the season and hit a few more.”

After belting a career-high 21 home runs last season, Hernández had not gone yard since Aug. 26, 2021, when he was a member of the White Sox. He entered the afternoon in a 155-game homerless streak. It was the third-longest active streak among position players behind only Angels outfielder Magneuris Sierra (223 games) and Guardians outfielder Myles Straw (157 games).

“I feel happy for him,” said Keibert Ruiz, who was driven in by Hernández. “Obviously he’s a really good player and a veteran on the team.” 

How close had Hernández come to going yard throughout this season? He had connected on six doubters (out at seven stadiums or fewer) and four mostly gone (out at eight to 29 stadiums) with a 2.6 xHR (ballparks gone at/30). 

“He can hit,” said Martinez. “He’s hit the ball fairly hard all year and run into some situations where he’s had two or three hard-hit balls and nothing to show for it. … I said, ‘Just keep swinging the bat.’”

Hernández said he was able to put the homer drought out of his mind by focusing on finding a way to get on base as the leadoff hitter the majority of the games this season. He paces the Nationals in hits with 122, a significant lead of 22 hits over Nelson Cruz. Now that he has been moved lower in the lineup (he hit in the No. 6 spot on Sunday), he has adjusted his mindset.

“I think I have a different mentality at the plate,” Hernández said. “I’m trying to be more aggressive on certain pitches when I go up to bat.”

The starting second baseman for most of the season, Hernández has become a utility player since Luis García returned from the injured list on Aug. 26 and shifted to second with CJ Abrams at shortstop. This weekend, he got his first two career starts in left field (he had played 22 games in center as a rookie in 2013). 

“I changed roles on him, and he’s gone out there, he’s accepted it, he’s done well,” Martinez said. “He’s a veteran guy and a true professional.” 

With 10 years of experience in the Majors, Hernández knew what to expect from his teammates in the dugout as soon as the ball left the park.

“I know that’s customary, especially when I go so long without hitting a home run,” Hernández said. “I kind of knew it might happen.”