In an injury that potentially throws a wrench into the Orioles' rotation plans, right-hander Félix Hernández left Tuesday’s 7-1 loss to the Rays due to right elbow discomfort, said general manager/executive vice president Mike Elias. Hernández exited after striking out two over a scoreless first inning, then he was replaced by Eric Hanhold to begin the second.
The extent of the injury was not immediately known, but manager Brandon Hyde said Hernández would undergo further testing. The righty did not address his status publicly.
“I thought his velocity was the same, and he was getting outs. I just thought the body language was different this time out,” Hyde said. “We felt like there was something bothering him.”
Hernández, 34, signed a Minor League deal this offseason to battle for a job in the Orioles' rotation, after electing not to play the 2020 season with the Braves due to health concerns. He showed decreased velocity upon arriving in camp, allowing six runs (five earned) over his first 4 2/3 Grapefruit League innings before Tuesday. The plan had been for Hernández to throw around 65 pitches; he faced three batters before complaining of elbow discomfort.
“He was taking more time in between pitches, and the way he came off the mound after the inning, it looked different,” Hyde said. “We had the feeling something wasn’t right.”
Shortly after arriving in O’s camp, Hernández said he signed with Baltimore for the opportunity to pad his borderline Hall of Fame resume. Debuting as a 19-year-old phenom for the Mariners in 2005, Hernández spent the next decade-plus as one the game’s most dominant starters, going 169-136 with a 3.42 ERA, earning six All-Star nods, two ERA titles and the '10 American League Cy Young Award. But he experienced a long, drawn-out decline with Seattle, going 15-27 with a 5.42 ERA over his final three seasons.
The Minors deal he signed this winter with Baltimore would pay him $1 million if Hernández makes the rotation, where he would provide veteran depth behind John Means and rookies Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin. He was one of two big-name reclamation projects the Orioles brought in for that purpose, along with former All-Star righty Matt Harvey. Given Hernández’s age and layoff -- he last pitched in a regular-season game in 2019 -- any significant injury wouldn’t only hurt his chances at pitching in '21. It could also potentially be career-ending.
The injury could also open starting opportunities for internal candidates like Jorge López and rookie left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, who are both pitching as well as anybody in O’s camp. Zimmermann, the Ellicott City, Md., native, has strung together nine scoreless innings in Grapefruit League play, striking out 10 in that span. López used three shutout innings Tuesday to shave his Grapefruit League ERA to 2.45; he produced a 6.34 ERA in nine games (six starts) for the O’s in 2020.