ARLINGTON -- The last time Jonathan Hernández pitched at Globe Life Field was on Sept. 27, 2020, against Houston in front of approximately 15 media members and an empty ballpark as the COVID-shortened season was coming to a close.
It had been 657 days since he stepped on a Major League mound, and in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Mariners, Hernández made his return in the seventh inning when he allowed a hit and notched a strikeout to end the frame.
Hernández admits to there being some nerves as he jogged from the bullpen to the mound, but he was able to compose himself and pitch a strong inning.
His final pitch -- an 89 mph cutter -- bounced in the dirt in front of the plate but got Eugenio Suárez to go down swinging. Hernández then walked confidently toward the dugout, making the sign of the cross and pointing to the sky as the emotions hit him.
“It feels amazing just being out there and you know, taking everything from where I left off a couple years ago,” Hernández said. “I was pretty emotional after I realized what I did, being out 15 months and coming back to throw a shutout. It was all pretty emotional for me.”
During that breakout 2020 season when he last pitched, Hernández was one of the Rangers’ best bullpen pieces with a 2.90 ERA and 31 strikeouts to just eight walks in 31 innings of work. He was set to anchor the back of the bullpen in '21 before going down early in Spring Training with an elbow injury and missing the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
His return marked the end of more than 15 long months of rest and rehab and trying to push forward past an injury that could have changed his career.
“If I said I wasn’t nervous, I would be lying,” Hernández said of making his return. “It was a lot of emotions going on, but it feels amazing to be back after basically 15 months. It feels pretty good to be back with the boys and help them to keep the game close and all that was pretty amazing.”
It was actually the first time Hernández has pitched in the Rangers' new ballpark -- Globe Life Field -- in front of fans due to the pandemic. The last time he pitched in front of a large big league crowd was during his debut season in 2019 across the street at Globe Life Park.
“I pitched in Triple-A this year, but there weren't a lot of fans like here,” Hernández said. “It’s a way different [atmosphere]. Hearing the other people, fans when I came in when they announced my name, hearing all the people yelling for me and saying welcome back, it was amazing.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward said prior to the game that he wanted to get Hernández in a game as soon as possible because he’s been “itching to pitch” and get back to the big leagues. When Saturday’s starter Spencer Howard went just five-plus innings against the Mariners, it became the perfect time to send him out.
Nobody watching would know it was Hernández’s first outing in 15 months from just watching that one inning. His sinker sat in the mid-90s and reached as high as 99.2 and his cutter reached as high as 90, per Statcast.
It was as ideal of an outing as anyone could have expected.
“It was a soft landing for him,” Woodward said. “Up and down in the seventh inning. But yeah, it was good to see him out there. It's good to see him competing. He missed one pitch, but it was good to see him pounding his glove. It was good to kind of just see the competitor, see the stuff where it was and get zero on the board. He gave us a chance to win the game. He looked good. The stuff was there, and we’ll get him back out there again soon.”