The Rangers’ first game of the season was a tight one throughout, and the Rockies had the top of their order coming up in the eighth inning.
For Rangers fans, and maybe Hernandez himself, there were a few fretful moments, but he didn’t let the Rockies score in an eventual 1-0 Opening Day win while striking out two batters.
It was quite a spot for the 6-foot-3, 190-pound righthander who has had a tenuous relationship with the strike zone in recent seasons as a starter. But he was the Rangers’ best reliever during summer camp, and his electric stuff had the team thinking he could be a force out of the bullpen.
“I feel good about it,” said Hernandez, 24. “I closed and pitched in long relief during winter ball in the Dominican. I was a starter last year. I don’t think about (the situation) too much.”
Hernandez, who was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 for $300,000, said he has learned how to control his fastball, a pitch that can touch triple digits and sat 97-99 mph against the Rockies. Woodward calls it a turbo sinker and has told Hernandez it can be a pitch that keeps him in the majors for a long time.
The sinker kept him in high-leverage situations early in the season as the Rangers dealt with injuries to three key members of the bullpen. Perhaps only closer Jose Leclerc has better stuff than Hernandez.
Hernandez, who pitched 16.2 major league innings in 2019, said that experience helped him prepare for 2020. He leaned on veteran Edinson Volquez for advice and simply learned what he needed to do better, like improving his fastball command.
“I am a more mature guy,” Hernandez said. “I know what to do and I feel better about myself. I have been pretty proud of myself and the job I have done lately.”
— Summer camp at Globe Life Field became a showcase for center fielder Leody Taveras, who went from long shot to a member of the Opening Day roster. Taveras, who had never played at a level higher than Double-A, excelled in all facets over three weeks to earn a spot as a reserve off the bench. Taveras made his major league debut on Opening Day as a defensive replacement.
— The Rangers took a look at righthander Alex Speas, the team’s 2016 second-round pick, during summer camp to be a potential bullpen option should the Rangers find themselves in contention. Speas, who had Tommy John surgery in 2018, was hitting 102 mph with his fastball in the fall.