Hernandez hits career-high 16th HR in win

Second baseman also hits RBI double and could be tempting trade chip

July 22nd, 2021

HOUSTON -- ’s batting average hasn’t reached the territory that he’s used to seeing, but his power continues at an unprecedented pace.

One flex of his muscles was the difference in the Indians' 5-4 victory over the Astros on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park, helping Cleveland snap a seven-game losing skid against Houston (six of which came this season).

“His batting average is lower than he’s accustomed to, but he’s also sitting on 16 home runs,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “And a lot of them have been big ones, so it’s certainly been helpful. He’s a good pro. He shows up every day.”

The Indians jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the third, thanks to a double down the left-field line by Hernandez. And after Ernie Clement created some separation with a three-run double in the sixth, the Astros clawed their way back into the game by knotting the score at 4 in the bottom half of the frame. But just as he provided the early spark to his team, Hernandez delivered the deciding blow in the top of the seventh on a 425-foot blast off Austin Pruitt to the second deck in right-center field.

“Nothing has changed in terms of my approach and my swing,” Hernandez said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “I feel like maybe I feel stronger, year after year. I just try to do the same swing [and put the] bat to [the] ball.”

The long ball marked his 16th of the season -- a career high. Hernandez hit 15 homers in 2018 and 14 in 2019 (both with the Phillies), but never logged more than nine in any of his other six big league seasons.

“No, it doesn’t surprise [me],” Hernandez said. “That has been my goal during the year. As you can see my numbers year after year, that has been my goal. That’s kind of like the result of the job we put in during the offseason every year, hitting a high number of homers.”

Although his average, which usually floats in the .270 or .280 range, is well below that mark so far this season (.226), his power could be something that draws interest from other clubs at next week’s Trade Deadline.

The Indians have been known to make relatively big moves at the Deadline to bring in a load of young talent that can help the current big league roster and bolster their depth in the Minor Leagues. In 2019 it was Trevor Bauer who was moved at the end of July, and last season it was Mike Clevinger. This time, the Indians don’t have much wiggle room to continue the starting-pitcher trend, but they certainly have the depth to move a middle infielder like Hernandez.

Although Cleveland is always willing to listen to offers on any of its players, it’s extremely unlikely that any deal would include the names José Ramírez, Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, Emmanuel Clase or James Karinchak. And because outfielder Eddie Rosario has been on the injured list over the last few weeks, more eyes are peering toward Hernandez as the Deadline approaches.

Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti hasn’t tipped his hand at any of his plans for the Deadline, other than indicating that it’s safe to assume they’ll approach it in the same way they have over recent years. The team still views itself as a contender this season and finding a way to add more young, Major League-ready talent would be its top priority.

Cleveland could choose to deal Hernandez before July 30, or it could just as easily keep him at second base. If the team chooses the latter, he’s certainly proved that his bat can help bring some power to the lineup at any time, as his blast helped the Indians take advantage of a White Sox loss to the Twins on Wednesday night, moving 8 1/2 games out of first place in the American League Central.

“It's always good to get a win on travel day,” Indians starter Eli Morgan said. “It'll be nice, we get to head into the homestand with a win under our belt, knocked the little skid against the Astros. … It's good to get a win on getaway day and I like our chances going forward.”