For catcher Oscar Hernandez, the agenda ahead is direct and simple. It’s time to make up for lost time.
As a selection from the Tampa Rays’ organization in the 2014 Rule 5 draft, the Diamondbacks burned a roster spot for Hernandez, who was coming to the major leagues from Class-A Bowling Green. If the native of Puento De Fijo, Venezuela was not part of the 25-man roster during any part of the 2015 season, then the Diamondbacks were mandated to return Hernandez to the Tampa organization. Because of his strong defensive skills, Arizona decision-makers believed Hernandez had major league potential. For that reason, clubhouse manager Roger Riley put out his shingle in the Chase Field clubhouse last season.
Now, the Diamondbacks are no longer held captive by the Rule 5 standard. These days, Hernandez is playing regularly at the minor league level, and gaining valuable experience. Plus, he sustained a broken right hand near the end of spring training last year, and that was considered a significant set-back in his on-going development, Last season, Hernandez landed on the disabled list with that broken right hand from the start of the season until July 4.
With Welington Castillo and Chris Herrmann the catchers of choice on the current major league roster, there is no question the Diamondbacks have plans for Hernandez. At this point, his overall development is the key element to a possible ascendancy to the major league level. Here at the start of the season, the Diamondbacks assigned Hernandez to Advanced A Visalia of the California League, and that’s fine.
“It’s not how you start, but where you finish,” Hernandez said Sunday after the Rawhide defeated Bakersfield 7-3 in a California League game. “I just want to play because last year, I didn’t play that much. Everyone knows I can play in the big leagues with my glove. I’m working with my bat, but I’ll never forget my defense.”
Because the Diamondbacks think highly of Hernandez’s glove, it’s his stick which causes the most concern. When he was selected from the Tampa organization, Hernandez hit .273 in parts of four season in the Rays’ rookie league and low minor league teams. Placed on the major league roster last season, Hernandez managed to get into 18 games with the Diamondbacks, and hit .161 (5-for-31) with one double and one RBI.
Hernandez is the first to admit that his bat remains an important conduit to getting back to Chase Field. Hampered by an ankle injury in the Rawhide’s first week of action, Hernandez’s at-bats have been limited to appearances in two games of Visalia’s first 10 encounters, and he is 2-for-8 in those contests. The plan ahead for Hernandez in the batter’s box is defined.
“With Oscar, we want him to get more length throughout the count, and stay inside the ball,” said J. R. House, the Rawhide manager. “Oscar needs to stay within himself, and the coaches stay on him about that every day. It hurts that he lost a full year, but he’s back to where needs to be and where he can play every day.”
Aside from honing defensive skills and turning plate appearances into quality at-bats, Hernandez is employing an important variable to his teammates. His experience with the Diamondbacks last season represents one key element he brings to the table.
“Last year was kind of crazy, but it’s time to move ahead,” Hernandez said. “I’m trying to be a leader here, and help every single pitcher.”
Ditto from House, who says Hernandez’s leadership skills remain in an embryonic state. That’s another vital reason why the Diamondbacks believe in Hernandez, and his ability to climb the ladder to Chase Field.
“(Oscar) is in a situation where he can get at-bats, and have success,” House added. “We’re here build to confidence in our players. He has stepped up his game in all areas.”
AT THE MAJOR LEAGUE LEVEL
With a 7-3 victory at San Diego Sunday, the Diamondbacks took their first series of the season. Now, it’s up the coast and face the Giants in San Francisco in a four-game set that concludes the current rad trip.
On Monday night, Archie Bradley, recalled Sunday from AAA Reno, gets the ball from manager Chip Hale. At least for this start, Bradley replaces Rubby De La Rosa in the rotation. De La Rosa pitched in Saturday’s 14-inning marathon loss to the Padres, and required a few extra days of rest. Bradley draws Giants’ righty Jake Peavy (0-1, 10.00 ERA) as his mound opponent.
For Tuesday night, look for lefty Robbie Ray (0-0, 2.92 ERA) to face right-hander Matt Cain (0-1, 675 ERA). On Wednesday night, it’s a marquee match-up. The Diamondbacks send out righty Zack Greinke (0-2, 6.75 ERA) against Giants’ lefty Madison Bumgarner (1-1, 4.50 ERA). For the get-away game Thursday afternoon, Shelby Miller (0-2, 8.53), who left last Saturday’s game with bruised fingers, returns to the hill, and faced righty Johnny Cueto (3-0, 3.38 ERA).
Then, the Diamondbacks return to Chase Field for a 10-game home stand. First in are the Pirates for three, followed by the Cardinals for four and the Rockies for three.