FORT MYERS, Fla. — In his first inning of work on Sunday, lefthander Darwinzon Hernandez showed why he’s emerged as the top Red Sox pitching prospect. In his second, he showed why there’s still more development in front of him before he’s ready to contribute in the big leagues.
Hernandez carved the Twins with a four-pitch mix in the first inning, establishing a fastball that topped out at 96 miles per hour and complementing it with his curveball, slider, and changeup. In his second inning of work, he loaded the bases on a soft single and a pair of four-pitch walks, but ultimately worked out of the jam by striking out lefthander Luke Raley with the bases loaded.
“The pitches just weren’t coming out the way that I wanted them to come out,” Hernandez said through translator Daveson Perez. “I was able to regain composure thanks to [catcher Sandy Leon], who came out and told me to breathe and relax and pitch the way that I did prior.”
Hernandez features weapons that make opposing hitters uncomfortable — so long as he’s able to keep them in or near the strike zone. He’s done that well enough this spring to throw four shutout innings with six strikeouts and just two hits allowed in a pair of Grapefruit League starts.
But while Sunday’s start in an eventual 9-7 Red Sox win over the Twins highlighted the 22-year-old’s potential to dominate, it also offered a reminder of the challenges ahead of him, and of the issue that will determine both his future role (starter or reliever) and his timetable for reaching the big leagues.
“We’re looking for consistency in the strike zone,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “With his stuff, he gets swings and misses in the strike zone, he gets weak contact in the strike zone. We need to harness his stuff. At this level . . . guys are not going to chase. We have to make sure he understands his stuff plays in the strike zone and close to it.”
Hernandez is expected to open the year in Double A Portland’s rotation.
Chavis: ‘He can hit’
As Xander Bogaerts entered the Red Sox clubhouse, he looked at the locker of Michael Chavis in a state of mild disbelief.
“Is it that easy?” the Red Sox shortstop wondered.
The inquiry was prompted by a solo homer to straightaway center by Chavis in the bottom of the fourth inning, the 23-year-old’s fourth homer in 19 Grapefruit League plate appearances. Already, Chavis has shown the ability to go deep to all fields.
While such spring heroics guarantee little in the regular season, at the plate, the 2014 first-rounder has made an impression.
“He can hit,” Cora said.
Yet Chavis also failed to field a hard chopper — a potential double-play ball — cleanly at first base, his second misplay of a ground ball at first base in three days.
“At this level, when it’s a double play, we have to turn double plays,” Cora said. “When it’s a routine play, we have to make routine plays. We’ll work with it.”
Though Chavis played second base in an exhibition game against Northeastern University, he has not appeared at the position in any Grapefruit League games, instead focusing on first and third base.
The Sox will have Chavis spend some time at second base in practice settings but are unlikely to ask him to play the unfamiliar position in games over the duration of the spring.
“He’s not used to it,” Cora said. “It would be on me if all of a sudden, he’s in the wrong spot and he gets hurt. We just have to be careful.”
Cora spoke highly of the defense of third baseman Bobby Dalbec, noting his good hands, footwork, and instincts at the position.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Cora said. “He’s a plus at third.”
Like Chavis, Dalbec will work exclusively at first and third during spring training.
Thornburg hit hard
Reliever Tyler Thornburg showed good velocity (94 to 96 miles per hour) in his second spring outing, but his fastball was hit solidly for a double and a run-scoring single in an inning of work. Cora thought he relied too heavily on the pitch, suggesting that the righthander threw 20 in a row and became too predictable on a day when he showed good secondary pitches. Thornburg’s changeup looked particularly impressive, with late diving action to get multiple swings and misses . . . Ryan Brasier, whose spring has been slowed by his recovery from a right pinkie toe infection, was scheduled to throw on flat ground on Sunday from 90 feet. There’s no timetable for when he’ll start throwing off a mound. “That’s up to [the trainers],” Brasier said. “That doesn’t stop me from asking about it every day.” . . . Blake Swihart is scheduled to rejoin the Sox on Monday after leaving the team following the death of his brother, Romell Jordan. Swihart is tentatively scheduled to play on Tuesday . . . Lefthander Brian Johnson has recovered from the illness that resulted in his being scratched from his scheduled start on Saturday. He is expected to throw what Cora described as an aggressive bullpen session in Fort Myers on Monday . . . Righthander Chandler Shepherd was slowed early this spring by elbow soreness, but he’s now resumed his normal pitching progression.