PAWTUCKET — Gary DiSarcina wasted little time in explaining why the PawSox are refraining from employing a six-man starting rotation.
“Chris Hernandez will be in the bullpen,” the Pawtucket skipper stated prior to Thursday’s game, which was started by Alfredo Aceves.
Originally, Hernandez was penciled in to start Friday’s game against Durham, but those plans were nixed after the lefty worked two innings in Thursday’s game. Friday’s nod went to Allen Webster, who figures to be followed by Terry Doyle (Saturday), Steven Wright (Sunday) and Rubby De La Rosa (Monday) before Aceves’ next turn on Tuesday in Gwinnett.
As long as Aceves remains with the PawSox, Hernandez will likely be stationed in the bullpen. DiSarcina noted that the 24-year-old will not be subjected to typical relieving protocol, meaning Hernandez figures to serve as the backup plan on days Aceves takes the mound.
“You don’t want to use him in short stints,” said DiSarcina. “It’s good to have him the bullpen right now. He gives us some length some length out there, but I wouldn’t say this is permanent.”
Added Hernandez, “This is just rolling with how things are going on right now.”
There’s also another way to look at Hernandez’ relocation. If Aceves strings together more outings like the six scoreless innings he blanketed the Bulls with Thursday, a return trip to Boston could present itself.
If such a scenario comes to pass the Red Sox could look to Double-A Portland to fill the spot in Pawtucket’s rotation rather than slot Hernandez back into the fray. One Sea Dog candidate who has set himself up quite nicely for a promotion is Anthony Ranaudo (remember him?). The former LSU star struggled mightily in his first Double-A go-around in 2012, one that saw him post a 6.69 ERA in nine starts and make two trips to the disabled list.
Now that Ranaudo is enjoying and sustaining his success, a promotion to the PawSox could come sooner rather than later. If that’s the case, Hernandez could very well remain in the bullpen and become the latest in a long line of Red Sox pitching prospects who underwent a starting-to-relieving reclassification at the Triple-A level – Michael Bowden in 2010 and Alex Wilson last season are two recent examples.
The 24-year-old Hernandez began the season in the rotation and made five starts (0-2, 4.56 ERA) before getting placed on the temporary inactive list on April 27. A year ago, he was second among full-time Red Sox minor-league qualifiers with a 3.26 ERA over 26 games, eight coming with the PawSox.
Thursday marked just the second relief appearance of Hernandez’ pro career, one dating back to 2010, when he was drafted by Boston in the seventh. Including this year, he has made 56 minor-league starts.
“It was fun to go out there and get a different perspective,” stated Hernandez after allowing one run in two innings against the Bulls. “For what I know right now, I’m just doing what they tell me. Whether it’s going to be following Alfredo, I’m not really sure. I’m taking the mentality that I’m coming out of the ‘pen and making sure that I’m getting ready for each game.”
Of the six outs Hernandez recorded Thursday, four were the result of groundballs. DiSarcina referenced that along with the fact that groundball outs for the southpaw were few and far between when he was taking the ball once every five days. The numbers bear that out as Hernandez never went more than five innings in any of his PawSox starts, the result of high pitch counts that according to the skipper stemmed from “pitching around the zone.”
“In my bullpens, I’ve been working on staying down in the zone. That’s something I needed to get back to that was there during my prior years,” said Hernandez. “Now I feel good in the sense where I’m getting on top of everything and throwing strikes.”