For the Red Sox to have the bullpen they want, lefty Darwinzon Hernandez needs to prove he can be a high-leverage reliever. In particular, manager Alex Cora would really like Hernandez to take control of the seventh inning and provide a sturdy bridge to Adam Ottavino and Matt Barnes for the last two innings.
After a significant bump in the road on April 22, when Hernandez gave up three runs in the 10th inning against the Mariners, the power reliever has bounced back nicely to strike out the side in each of his past two outings.
Is Hernandez ready for high leverage?
“Yeah, we think he can perform in high-leverage situations,” said Cora. “He threw the ball exceptionally well the last two. It’s one of those, how you attack guys.”
Though the loss on April 22 -- in which Mitch Haniger hit a three-run homer against Hernandez -- was painful at the time, it might have taught Hernandez some valuable lessons.
“I do believe that home run he gave up against Seattle, it was a good learning experience,” Cora said. “It’s not that he’s not attacking the right guys, but it was a reminder that his fastball plays in certain areas and he should attack there, and he's done a good job. He's made some adjustments with [bullpen coach Kevin Walker] and [pitching coach Dave Bush] with his offspeed pitches, and right now, he's in a good spot.
“He's getting a lot of swings and misses in the strike zone, which we believe his fastball can do that. We’re excited to see where this is going to go, but we feel very confident that he can help us [by] getting big outs late in games.”
Hernandez, who came up through the Minors as a starter, is still getting adjusted to the rhythm of being a reliever.
“The whole mindset,” said Hernandez. “Always, us pitchers want to improve our control. That’s really what I have been focusing on. Really making sure my body is right and not trying to do too much and not [speeding] my delivery up. That’s what I had been working on leading up to these past couple outings.”
Hernandez has also been working on improving his breaking ball so hitters can’t sit on his heat.
“I’ve just been working on my curveball. That’s a pitch coming up [through the Minors] I did have, but I stopped utilizing it,” Hernandez said. “Now that I’m up here and needing another pitch to get guys out, that’s something I’ve been working on. I’ve been throwing it in some games recently too, and I’ve had some success with it.”
Dalbec’s timing is off
Rookie first baseman Bobby Dalbec came into this season with big expectations but has mostly struggled thus far to the tune of a .200/.259/.320 line with one homer. He was out of the lineup on Sunday.
What is Dalbec’s biggest area of emphasis to get back on track?
“We talked a little bit yesterday. Timing-wise, he's just a little bit off,” said Cora. “We can talk about swing path and your back leg and your back hip. But like the great Manny Ramirez used to say, ‘If you don't see the ball, and you're not on time, you're not going to give yourself a chance.’ For how great of a hitter Manny was or is -- when I see him on Instagram swinging the bat, he still looks good -- he was always on time.
“His timing was perfect, he got that foot down, he was able to recognize pitches, and it seems like he was able to slow everything down before he made a swing decision.”
Globe Life Field is the first venue the Red Sox have played at since 2019 that is allowing full capacity in the stands.
“It got loud last night,” said Cora. “Good for them that they can do it. The fans were into it. It’s been feeling different. They were very loud throughout the game. I hope they’re doing it right, that’s the way you have to put it. It’s just different compared to where we were in New York [or] being in Boston. It’s just different here.
“They feel they’re OK doing it this way, good for them. Hopefully everybody can do it whenever the states and people that know more about this virus and pandemic decide we can do that. That’ll be great. But it’s a great atmosphere, it’s a lot different and it got really loud last night.”
The Red Sox, who have been at 12 percent capacity for home games this season, will increase to 25 percent on May 11.