Hernández was initially placed on the COVID-19 IL after he was exposed to a close contact who had tested positive, and later tested positive himself. The 28-year-old went through all MLB protocols and returned healthy to the organization a week ago, but he has needed some time at the alternate training site to work on his timing after being isolated.
Hernández shared that his wife and young son also tested positive for COVID-19 but have both tested negative since. Hernández was symptomatic with body aches, headaches and a fever, but he is back in game shape now. While isolating, Hernández had access to a hitting tee and other exercise equipment that the Blue Jays provided him before moving into rehab games.
“I was just doing my best to get my body in a position so I could get back to play,” Hernández. “My timing, I’m not going to get the timing that I want in a couple of days. It’s going to take time, but I feel like I’m ready to go back and find that and start to help my team.”
Through his first seven games of the season, Hernández hit just .207 with one home run and 14 strikeouts. That total wasn’t as glaring at the time, as many of the Blue Jays’ hitters were struggling as well, but Hernández is one of the lineup’s most capable hitters, with the power potential to clear 30-plus home runs rather easily.
In Friday's 13-5 win over the Braves, Hernández made an immediate impact, crushing a three-run homer and going 2-for-5.
With Springer back in the leadoff spot and Hernández returning, the Blue Jays will continue to move toward the deep, powerful lineup that was supposed to be their strength all along. They need to hit, of course, but the pieces are now in place.
“It’s tough to expect them to come in and start hitting a lot, because they haven’t played in a while,” said manager Charlie Montoyo, “but they’re healthy. That’s the No. 1 [priority]. The more they play, the more the lineup is going to get better. When’s that going to happen? It could be any day.”
The club optioned Jonathan Davis to the alternate site in a corresponding move, which is sensible given that the Blue Jays also have Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk on the roster. The returns of Springer and Hernández should impact Grichuk most, given that he plays both center and right field, but Grichuk has already played himself into a bigger role than some expected entering the season. Hitting .288 with four homers and an .828 OPS entering Friday’s series opener against Tampa Bay, Grichuk has also looked very sound defensively.
Davis will have other opportunities through the year, given his speed and defensive abilities. No. 28 prospect Josh Palacios has improved his stock through Spring Training and into the regular season, though, so that gap has narrowed as the club’s outfield depth develops.
The move was made to clear space on the 40-man roster when Hernández was activated from the COVID-19 IL. Roark, who last pitched on April 18, has been on the family medical emergency list.
“In Spring Training, we saw him kind of coming back and doing better, but he just couldn’t carry it into the season,” Montoyo said. “We felt like it was time to make a change.”
Roark opened the season in the rotation, but allowed five runs and three homers over three innings in his 2021 debut. That led to an early shift to the bullpen, where he made just two outings. Even as the Blue Jays scrambled to fill starting spots and staff bullpen games, though, Roark’s role remained unclear.
Last season, Roark compiled a 6.80 ERA over 47 2/3 innings, but home runs and walks were a problem. Originally brought in to be a stabilizing force in the Blue Jays’ rotation as they made the leap from rebuilding to competing, the signing has not worked out how either side envisioned.
Pearson competing for his shot
No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson was activated from the 10-day IL (right adductor strain) after throwing in a rehab game on Thursday, and he’ll travel with Triple-A Buffalo as the Bison open their season in Trenton, N.J. Despite his prospect pedigree and the rotation need, though, Pearson is going to have to earn his way onto the Blue Jays' roster.
“Now, he’s competing with Anthony Kay, T.J. Zeuch and all of those guys who pitch down there [in Triple-A] to see who comes back to the big leagues,” Montoyo said.