Kansas City Royals rookie right-hander Carlos Hernández had been slated to start on Wednesday, but a rainout and a scheduled off day meant he spent the first inning on Friday night knocking off rust.
When rested crossed the line into rusty, Hernández found himself on the mound in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park with the bases loaded despite not having given up a single hit.
“A lot of days off,” Hernández said when asked about his first-inning struggles. “Ten days off maybe made it a little difficult. The routine is different. The good thing is I’ve got another opportunity.”
Things didn’t exactly go badly for Hernández. He tossed five shutout innings and held the Tigers to two hits as the Royals won 3-1 at Comerica Park. He walked three, including two in the first inning when he worked into and out of a bases-loaded jam. He also hit a batter and threw 30 pitches, but stranded the bases loaded.
“It was a difficult first inning, but I’m just working hard and coming back and let’s go,” Hernández said of the outing.
He entered the day coming off his worst start of his young career against the Oakland Athletics on September 15. He gave up career highs with seven runs, nine hits and four walks in four innings.
The Tigers on Friday put two men on with one out when Hernández hit a batter and walked the next. He then got Miguel Cabrera to ground out that moved the runners to second and third. Hernández then walked Jeimer Candelario on four pitches.
Then Harold Castro lined out to right field to end the inning. After the first inning, Hernández found a groove and started utilizing his changeup effectively.
“First he got himself into a mess trying to make it all happen with his fastball,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “He just really never had his slider today, and that has been such an important pitch for him. … His changeup really got him out of a mess in the middle innings. I thought maybe that might have been his best pitch all day.”
Hernández retired eight of his next 11 batters he faced after the first inning.
“I was feeling good in the second inning (through) the fifth,” Hernández said. “I was feeling good. I attacked the zone, one pitch for one pitch, one hitter for one hitter.”
Beginning with an inning-ending double play in the third inning, Hernández and the defense recorded four outs in a matter of four pitches thanks to back-to-back groundouts to start the fourth inning. He recorded just one strikeout in the outing, and he threw 89 pitches.
In 58 1/3 innings as a starting pitcher in the majors this season, Hernández has a 3.55 ERA.
He now had three starts this season of at least five innings without having allowed a run.
In his last 10 games (nine starts) he’s posted a 5-1 record with a 2.51 ERA and a .212 opponents’ batting average. The Royals are 8-2 in that 10-game span.
“He had a real good approach when he got into trouble,” Matheny said. “He has kind of done that all season. He has pitched way beyond his years.”