Hernández's prep for '23? A sci-fi pitching machine

March 21st, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- wouldn’t trade his World Baseball Classic experience for anything, other than maybe a few more than the five at-bats he took for Team Dominican Republic before their elimination on Wednesday.

“It was incredible,” Hernández said. “I mean, overall, it was good, and it was like it's something that you have to go through so you can know what kind of experience it is. I had a lot of fun.”

Hernández, Julio Rodríguez and Diego Castillo were away from the Mariners for 10 days while playing for their homeland in Pool D in Miami. Hernández played in each of the D.R.’s four games, but he only made one start, in the team’s first contest against Venezuela.

Hernández was used as a defensive replacement late in two of the other games, and saw one at-bat as a pinch-hitter, the called strikeout that ended the loss to Puerto Rico and eliminated the Dominican Republic. Eloy Jiménez of the White Sox earned the other starts in right field in those contests.

Now, Hernández is playing a little more catch-up than anticipated. But he expects to be fully ready for Opening Day.

“It was really close,” Hernández said of his timing. “I was getting there, and then I left. … It's hard to search in the big leagues, so I'm going to search now and get ready for the season.”

To make up for lost time, Hernández has been regularly using the Trajekt machine that mimics the deliveries and pitch behaviors of MLB pitchers, a luxury he didn’t have in Toronto. Only a handful of big league clubs are leasing them, and the Mariners just had theirs installed last year. Trajekt’s hardware utilizes holographic images that can mirror any pitcher against a backdrop that shifts its shape to tailor as such. It’s supplemented with software that houses reams of pitch-tracking data, creating the ultimate BP machine.

“I think for me, it's even harder hitting against that machine than facing the real guy in real life,” Hernández said. “So I think it would be good for the position players. I think it will help.”

What makes it even more challenging?

“It's just, you're looking at the screen,” Hernández said. “You don't see the ball in his hand or anything. You just see the ball coming through a hole. So that's what makes it a little hard.”

Hernández played in consecutive Cactus League games on Saturday and Sunday with three at-bats in each. Ideally, he’d like to work himself back exclusively in MLB games rather than seeing action in Minors camp, where he could get potentially up to 10 at-bats on any given day with multiple games taking place.

“I'm not going to rush it,” Hernández said. “I'm not going to push anything, because I don't want to get hurt. I just want to take these 10 days to get into a process and to a routine, so I can get my at-bats back. My body feels good. Right now, I just need my timing in the game to be ready for the season.”

Hernández is slated to be the regular right fielder, but Mariners manager Scott Servais noted that the two-time Silver Slugger Award winner will also be among the regular rotation at DH. And some of the power he’s shown this spring underscores why.