Hernández returns to 'beyond his years' form

September 25th, 2021

DETROIT -- Carlos Hernández's Friday night began in such a way that there was some question whether he’d make it out of the first inning. The Royals’ right-hander was wild, amped and, well, none of the things he had been lately during a stellar second half.

Fortunately, even during his rookie campaign, Hernández has usually possessed enough moxie to reverse his own fortune, and he wound up doing just that during Kansas City’s 3-1 win against the Tigers in the series opener at Comerica Park.

"I was feeling good for the second [through the] fifth inning," Hernández said through team interpreter Luis Perez. "I was feeling good and attacking the zone: One pitch by one pitch, one hitter by one hitter. It was good."

Coming off a disastrous seven-run, four-frame outing against the A’s, Hernández certainly took the hill in search of redemption. The Oakland blip boosted his season ERA 61 points and brought to an end a commanding eight-game stretch during which he went 5-0 with a 1.68 ERA.

On Friday, Hernández took a step back in the right direction with five scoreless innings of two-hit ball to stump Detroit while his teammates toiled at the plate behind him. Kansas City mustered just five hits in the win, but Hernández’s stingy start, combined with a solid performance from the Royals’ relief corps, meant one quiet night from the bats wasn’t a problem.

"How about [I sum it up] in one word? Relentless," said Ryan O'Hearn, who finished 2-for-2 with an RBI, a run scored and a walk. "It's a very cliche word but it's true. These guys battle every at-bat, every pitch, until the game's over. ... It was fun. Tonight was just a collective team effort."

Hernández figures to be an integral piece of the Royals’ future and is evolving into a pretty solid rotation guy. Kansas City has been thrilled so far with his aggressiveness and five-pitch mix, but with just 29 career games (14 starts) under his belt, there’s obviously still work to be done.

Perhaps Hernández was a little too eager to prove that he was better than what he’d shown during that Sept. 15 start against the A’s, because there were control issues in Detroit nearly right out of the gate.

The long layover between outings didn’t help Hernández any.

"A lot of days off -- [nine] days off -- made it a little difficult. The routine was different,” he said. “The good thing is that I got another opportunity."

Just two batters into the game, Hernández one-hopped a slider to Jonathan Schoop a good 5 feet in front of the plate, then plunked Schoop on the left arm with a four-seamer four pitches later. He then issued a pair of walks around a groundout to earn a mound visit just 27 pitches and two outs into the tilt.

Whatever the chat entailed, it turned the 24-year-old’s night around. Hernández induced a Harold Castro lineout to escape the frame undamaged, then faced just two batters more than the minimum during his final four innings.

"He had a real good approach when he got into trouble, and he's kind of done that all season,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He's pitched way beyond his years as far as how he handles it.”

By the end of the evening, Hernández had really hit his stride, erasing all of the early doubt. If there was one complaint following the first inning, it was that Hernández couldn’t go deep into the game after being handcuffed by 30-pitch first.

That Hernández could pull himself out of the hole he’d dug early was such a good sign for a pitcher who’d made his MLB debut just a more than a year ago that the Royals had no problem dismissing the rough beginning.

Kansas City’s offense was cold early, taking a 1-0 lead in the third when O’Hearn singled, moved to third on Kyle Isbel’s double and came home on a Whit Merrifield sacrifice fly. The Royals were quiet over the following frames before adding one run on an O’Hearn single in the seventh that drove in Adalberto Mondesi, who tripled, and tacking on another one in the eighth on Merrifield’s second sac fly.

Hernández’s turnaround, combined with scoreless outings from Jake Brentz (2/3 IP), Josh Staumont (1 1/3 IP) and Scott Barlow (1 IP) and a one-run night from Domingo Tapia (1 IP), meant three runs were plenty for Kansas City to get back to its winning ways.