Lefthander Darwinzon Hernandez moved beyond an enormous first-half strike-throwing struggle at high Class A Salem to dominate the Carolina League as a starter.
The 21-year-old mostly overwhelmed opposing hitters with a mid-to-high 90s fastball—he topped out at 98 mph—a swing-and-miss slider and an average curveball, all coming from a tough low three-quarters arm slot.
Through his first 15 starts, Hernandez posted a 5.19 ERA with 6.1 walks per nine innings. Even though he was inducing bad contact and striking out nearly 10 per nine, his inability to consistently attack the strike zone contributed to pitch inefficiency. Evaluators wondered if that would force him to the bullpen sooner rather than later.
But in his next eight starts in July and August, Hernandez posted a 1.29 ERA while elevating his strikeout rate (12.9 per nine) and lowering his walks (4.3 per nine). Hitters couldn’t square up any of his offerings, hitting .197. For the year, he allowed only one homer in 107 innings.
In an era where the idea of being a five-inning pitcher is no longer a rotation disqualification, Hernandez showed enough to convince the Red Sox that he deserves consideration in that role. Yet it is also an era where the value of dominant relievers has grown. That’s why Hernandez worked in the bullpen at the end of the year in Double A Portland.
He looked good in a season-ending relief cameo, then dominated at the outset of an Arizona Fall League stint out of the bullpen. He struck out 16 and walked four in his first eight innings in relief, showing wipeout stuff.
Hernandez’s ultimate role is to be determined. If he can get a better feel for his changeup, he has clear starter potential. Or he could emerge as a late-innings weapon, a lefty who can create discomfort in batters from both sides of the plate.
Hernandez, who signed out of Venezuela in 2013, isn’t too concerned about his role. As a player who will be added to the 40-man roster this winter and who has a chance to make it to the big leagues in 2019, he’s more concerned about moving up than his job description.
“I don’t care if it’s starting or reliever,” Hernandez said through a translator. “I’ll just do my job, and if that’s a way to make it to the big leagues, I’ll do it.”
• Trey Ball, the seventh overall pick in 2013 as a lefthanded pitcher, spent instructional league playing left field and serving as DH. He’ll either develop as both a position player and pitcher or solely as a position player in 2019.
• After 11 years managing in the Red Sox system, including five at Triple-A Pawtucket, Kevin Boles elected to leave the organization to pursue other opportunities.