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Carlos Hernandez Has Hit a Wall
It's been a great year for the young righty, but he looks worn down.
One of the best stories of the second half for the Royals has been Carlos Hernandez. He was scheduled to make the last start before the break in Cleveland, but it got rained out, so he got the opportunity in the first series after the break and he was fine. But he slowly started getting more confidence, throwing more strikes and just generally looking like a better and better pitcher. Suddenly, he was throwing upper-90s with nasty curves and sliders and the changeup was coming along too. But he’d also never thrown more than 79.1 innings professionally and that came in 2018.
He surpassed that number in his great start against the Cubs on August 22. Then he threw 5.2 innings against the Mariners, six against the White Sox and six more against the Orioles heading into last night’s start. He was at 103 innings to start the night, which is an increase of just 23.2 innings, but by percentage, that’s a 30 percent jump. And in his last start against Baltimore, the stuff just wasn’t especially crisp and he only got one strikeout in six innings.
One of the most telltale signs of a tired pitcher is the ball getting left up. And I don’t mean in a way that you want to throw a high fastball to get a whiff, but really get left up. That happens a lot of the time because a pitcher has trouble finishing his delivery. A lot of times, a tired pitcher has trouble finishing his delivery, so it all makes sense. The first inning wasn’t terrible for Hernandez.
A few pitches were left up and he had some good fortune that Salvador Perez has an absolute cannon behind the plate to get Starling Marte trying to steal on a strikeout to end the inning. Things got a little bit worse in the second inning.
You can see a lot of fastballs starting to creep up. His lone changeup was also up. A leadoff walk came around to score (shocking, I know) in addition to the single that followed the walk. He was fortunate it wasn’t worse, but he got out of that second inning with just two runs allowed. The third was pretty similar. He seemed to try to go to some off-speed stuff a little more.
You can see four changeups, a few curves and some sliders. But he just continued to have the look of a tired pitcher. He only gave up one run, but it was once again the leadoff walk. And then his last full inning was the fourth, which wasn’t pretty at all.
He had one fastball at 91.8 MPH, which, at the time, was the third slowest he’d thrown in his career. One of those fastballs in the top left corner of the image was the home run from Matt Olson. I think it was managerial malpractice to have him come back out for the fifth. Matheny was clearly managing the game based on Tuesday night’s, so Jackson Kowar’s struggles played a role last night as well. But Hernandez gave up two hits on two middling fastballs before getting pulled in favor of Tyler Zuber.
I think what makes the decision to put Hernandez back out there even more baffling is the fact that the Royals had just scored three to get back into the game. The right move is to go to the bullpen to start the fifth inning, and that’s frustrating. I said above that the 91.8 MPH fastball was the third slowest at the time and that’s because he threw one at 90.8 in the fifth before getting pulled for Tyler Zuber.
As a side note, I’ve also pretty much lost faith in Zuber, which is disappointing. I really thought the stuff played, but he just doesn’t have any idea where the ball is going, so going to him when Hernandez came out was the wrong choice as well. That ultimately doesn’t matter too much, but I was hopeful for Zuber to be a nice weapon out of a future bullpen on a good team.
It’s not a surprise that he’s worn down. I mentioned the innings before, but also he seems to have developed a different focus through his performances this season. Extra concentration takes extra out of you. He absolutely needs to be a bigger innings guy given both his frame and his upside, but that sort of thing happens slowly. He threw 14.2 competitive innings last season. He’s now thrown 107 this year. That doesn’t include spring training or the alternate site, so it’s not the exact number, but either way, he’s jumped quite a bit.
And what’s happening with the Royals staff right now is part of why I was so frustrated last season when the owners got into a urination challenge with the players about salaries and games played in 2020. If you’ll recall, they easily could have played 80-90 games and maybe a handful more than that even. A 60-game schedule will have an impact beyond 2021. I wrote about it last week (I think?) that the young pitchers were running up on their highest innings totals in at least two years, if not ever. A guy like Hernandez is hitting a wall at 100 or so innings, so where does he hit a wall next year? I don’t know. Maybe 130?
Hernandez isn’t the only one hurt by this. 2022 will be another year of teams having to monitor workload to ensure their young pitchers and old pitchers alike don’t have all these injury issues we’ve seen this season. If they had played even 20 more games, you’re talking about at least half a season for these pitchers instead of closer to one-third. If they could have squeezed out 94, it’s even better. So that absolutely ridiculous grandstanding will have negative impacts on the game for multiple seasons, and it’s very frustrating.
It’s my opinion that the Royals should shut things down for Hernandez because of all of this. The issue that they’re running into is where to turn. Mike Minor is now on the IL and is probably done for the year unless he comes from his shoulder impingement faster than anyone but Jake Brentz has this year. They could get Ronald Bolaños back up, but he was just activated from the 60-day and optioned to Omaha and then got rocked on Tuesday. I’d love to see more of him, though. They could also purchase the contract of Foster Griffin, who has worked his way back from Tommy John to pitch well. So they do have options, but just not a ton. And that goes back to the point about last season being a big problem for pitching late in the season.
And if Hernandez is done for the year, it was a heck of a season for him, no matter what happened yesterday. He showed that he has the stuff to be in the front of end of a staff on a playoff team. That doesn’t mean he will, mind you, but he certainly has that kind of ability. I’ve said before that he has the feel of the Salvy of this prospect group. He wasn’t heralded at all, but he has a great time playing the game and might end up being the very best of the bunch.
The Offense Stays Relentless
I said it yesterday, but just to remind you, Tuesday night was the eighth time this season that the Royals have come back from a deficit of at least four runs. When they went down 5-1 in the top of the fourth inning, I’m not sure anyone predicted a comeback, but I’m also not sure anyone was going to be too surprised if they did work their way back.
And they started chipping away. Perez hit a rocket single to start the inning. Then Andrew Benintendi singled. Then Carlos Santana singled after swinging at ball four a couple times. A forceout from Adalberto Mondesi drove in a run and after a Hunter Dozier walk, Hanser Alberto came through with a ground ball single to score two runs and get the score to 5-4.
And it wouldn’t be a Royals game without Perez hitting a bomb.
It was his 44th of the year and while it didn’t tie the game or give them a lead, it did put Perez one home run closer to tying Johnny Bench for the most homers in a season by someone playing 75 percent or more of their games at catcher. It also put him just two home runs behind Mike Sweeney for second in franchise history. And it put him just four home runs behind Jorge Soler for the franchise single season record. Boy he’s been fun.
They added another one in the seventh when Lopez singled and then advanced third from first on a wild pitch and then scored on a Benintendi base hit.
And then in the eighth, they had a big inning after Matheny removed Perez, Merrifield and Santana. It started with a Dozier double, which was his sixth extra base hit in his last five starts. Then with one out, Olivares singled him home. Lopez was hit by a pitch, Ryan O’Hearn walked and Benintendi picked up his fifth hit of the game with two more RBI.
Then they loaded the bases with nobody out in the ninth and got one run home on a fielder’s choice. But that was it and the A’s held on.
It’s fair to question the decision to pull the starters, but it was the eighth inning of a game the Royals were trailing by six in the second consecutive looooooooong game. But boy oh boy, how does it look when it’s 12-10 in the tenth when Kyle Isbel is up against a lefty in the bottom of the ninth in what would have been Whit Merrifield’s spot? I think it ultimately looks bad, but I also totally get why the moves were made.
No, they didn’t end up winning the game, but not because of the offense. That unit showed what they’ve shown basically all season, since game one. And that’s that they simply refuse to quit. It’s a heck of a quality in a team. The offense isn’t particularly young yet. Merrifield, Perez and Santana are on the wrong side of 30, but they do have guys like Nicky Lopez, Modnesi, Benintendi and Edward Olivares in the lineup who are 25-26 years old.
Ultimately, if this team is going to hit enough to win enough games to make the playoffs, it’ll likely be because guys like Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez team up with Perez to build a formidable middle of the order, but it’s good to get that comeback gene going on a team early. It’s something we saw an awful lot of in the championship seasons. It takes a good pitching staff to allow for the comebacks, but when you have a team that never thinks they’re out of it, that’s pretty dangerous.
Big Time Benny
I wrote about Benintendi just a few days ago in the Weekend in Review, but he just keeps on hitting. He went 5 for 5 yesterday with four more runs batted in. The run he’s on is something I haven’t seen in a long, long time. He has 20 hits since the start of the last road trip. He’s hit .541/.562/.892 in those nine games. He has 18 RBI in that time. In nine games, he’s raised his average 27 points, which is almost impossible in September. He’s raised his OBP by 26 points. He’s raised his SLG by 45 points. It’s not the best nine-game stretch in baseball history or anything, but it’s pretty crazy what he’s done after looking so bad for so long.
Where does it rank in Royals history, you ask? I’m glad you did. Those 18 RBI are tied for the most ever in franchise history in a nine-game stretch with Billy Butler, Raul Ibanez and George Brett. The 20 hits are tied with Eric Hosmer, Mark Grudzielanek, David DeJesus and a handful of others for 42nd most in franchise history. His average among hitters with 35+ plate appearances in nine games is tied for 59th with Angel Berroa. The OBP is tied for 79th with Hal McRae. The SLG is tied for 38th with Hal Morris. Obviously the names aren’t always impressive, but for a franchise in its 53rd season, those are some pretty high rankings. It’s been fun.
I don’t have a lot to say here, but I just wanted to take a look at some September leaders among the Royals. Offensively, you’ll probably be pretty surprised by a couple names. Yes, I see you Hunter Dozier.
On the pitching side, I don’t see many surprises other than the fact that Scott Blewett didn’t give anything up last night.
I just think it’s a good idea to check in on recent trends from time to time.