Red Sox prospect Darwinzon Hernandez has electric stuff, but can he control his emotions?
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Sometimes all it took was something small, a bloop single or the umpire calling a close pitch a ball. Then Darwinzon Hernandez would start to overthrow and the game would get away from him.
The 22-year-old Red Sox prospect from Venezuela has all the physical ability needed to pitch in the major leagues.
But the lefthander’s emotions all too easily got the best of him.
Hernandez had two starts with Single A Salem last season when he didn’t get out of the first inning, and another when he got only three outs.
“You see a guy with electric stuff, major league stuff, and you wonder what causes that. It’s just immaturity,” Salem manager Joe Oliver said. “He wanted it so badly that it got away from him.”
Pedro Martinez, who often works with young pitchers, counseled Hernandez to control his emotions, take a deep breath, and stick to his routine on the mound when the game started to speed up.
“Don’t let anyone know that I’m nervous out there,” Hernandez said via an interpreter on Saturday.
That became easier as the season went on. Hernandez was 6-0 with a 1.29 earned run average in his final eight starts for Salem and averaged 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
He earned a promotion to Double A Portland and a spot on the 40-man roster when the season ended. Now he’s in spring training with the major league team, following around Chris Sale and David Price to learn all he can.
“It’s very exciting for me,” Hernandez said.
Just wait, it could get better. The Sox had Hernandez pitch in relief for Portland and he also came out of the bullpen in eight appearances for Mesa in the Arizona Fall League.
The organization appears to be grooming Hernandez as a reliever, although manager Alex Cora said the plan was for him to stay in the rotation once he was assigned to a minor league team.
That would enable him to further develop all of his pitches.
Cora said Hernandez would have to “shock the world” to make the big league roster.
Cora spent time over the winter evaluating Hernandez, Travis Lakins, Denyi Reyes, Mike Shawaryn, and the other pitching prospects who would be in camp.
That his brother-in-law, Jesus Feliciano, was on the Mesa coaching staff made it easier to get a read on Hernandez.
“We have a very good idea of what those guys can do,” Cora said.
The hope is at least one or two of the prospects prove ready to contribute in Boston at some point this season. Given the turnover among relievers over the course of a season, there is sure to be a need at some point.
Hernandez has learned to focus on what’s directly in front of him.
“I went through a moment where I realized I don’t need to think about what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “I started focusing on the little things that I can do each day to get closer to [the majors].”
Cora revealed that when he was first hired as manager in 2017, he wanted to name Dana LeVangie as bench coach. He knew LeVangie from his time playing for the Sox and trusted his judgment.
LeVangie also had experience in the job. In 2015, when manager John Farrell was on medical leave with cancer, LeVangie was the bench coach for interim manager Torey Lovullo.
But LeVangie declined, feeling it wasn’t the right fit. He was instead selected as the pitching coach. Ron Roenicke, a former manager, was hired as bench coach.
LeVangie proved to be a success as pitching coach.
“The job he did last year was amazing, the communication and the connection he has with the pitchers,” Cora said. “He’s been in this organization forever in different roles.”
Sunday is the deadline for position players to report and the first full-squad workout is Monday. Of the 59 players on the training camp roster, the only player yet to arrive is J.D. Martinez. He’ll drive over from Miami on Sunday. “He’s probably hitting right now,” Cora said . . . Cora was asked what he wanted to see from pitchers such as Sale when they throw in the bullpen. “That they’re in one piece after they’re done,” he said . . . Rick Porcello, who pitched off a mound several times before camp officially opened, threw 40 pitches on Saturday . . . As position players report around the game, Hanley Ramirez remains a free agent. The 35-year-old was released by the Sox last May 30 and did not play the rest of the season. Ramirez hit .266 with an .829 OPS in 18 games of winter ball in the Dominican Republic but that has not led to any further opportunities.