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PETER ABRAHAM | ON BASEBALL

Marco Hernandez’s long-awaited return a breath of fresh air

Marco Hernandez watches the flight of his two-run double in the sixth inning.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The Red Sox started 31-year-old righthander Josh Smith in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against Tampa Bay. The Sox are his fourth organization over the last four years after being dropped by the Athletics, Reds, and Mariners.

Smith was followed to the mound by Colten Brewer, whom the Padres traded to the Sox in November because that was preferable to designating him for assignment.

Then came Mike Shawaryn, who walked 16 over 13⅔ innings in his last three starts for Triple A Pawtucket but was called up anyway.

Lefthander Josh Taylor also pitched an inning. He was the player to be named later when the Sox traded shortstop Deven Marrero to the Diamondbacks last March rather than designating him.

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The result was a 9-2 loss and another step back in what has been a season of stubborn inconsistency.

For a team with the highest payroll in baseball, the Red Sox are carrying a large assortment of fringy major leaguers, six or seven depending on how tough you want to grade them. That’s a big chunk of the roster.

Injuries are to blame with Nate Eovaldi, Brian Johnson, Mitch Moreland, Steve Pearce, and Hector Velazquez, among those on the injured list. The Sox also were without J.D. Martinez, who is again dealing with back spasms.

But it’s also fair to question whether the Sox should have been better prepared.

The Yankees have been swamped by injuries but filled in the gaps nicely with their Triple A talent. General manager Brian Cashman made a series of low-profile moves that delivered high yields.

The Sox boasted of having done that with Brewer, pointing to the spin rate of his secondary pitches as being an untapped resource. But he has so far put 46 men on base over 26 innings.

One borderline big leaguer who could actually help is Marco Hernandez, who made his return to the majors Saturday after an absence of two years, one month, and five days.

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Hernandez was a promising 24-year-old infielder in 2017 before he separated his left shoulder and had surgery.

When the pins that were placed in his shoulder started to irritate the joint, Hernandez had a second surgery during spring training in 2018. Then he needed a third procedure last July 10.

“I never put my head down,” Hernandez said. “I always stayed positive because I knew if I could get healthy I could play. Everybody saw what I can do on a baseball field.”

Not quite everybody. Alex Cora only knew what he heard of Hernandez from others and what he watched on video.

“People were very high on him as an athlete and what he can bring, the offensive upside — running, moving the ball around, bunting, and hitting the ball the other way. You heard great things.”

Hernandez spent all of last season doing rehabilitation work in Fort Myers, prohibited from baseball activities. Then he moved to Boston in the winter to continue his treatment at Fenway Park under the care of the team’s medical staff.

In all, Hernandez was away from his family in the Dominican Republic for 15 months.

“I think I’m a citizen in Fort Myers. I don’t need a GPS. I know where everything is,” Hernandez said. “Then I went to Boston and I froze. But it was good for me. I was healing.”

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As his shoulder grew stronger, Hernandez added upper-body muscle and taught himself to speak what is now close-to-perfect English. When he swung a bat for the first time in spring training this season, even his teammates celebrated.

“I was late on fastballs. But it still felt great just to be swinging a bat again,” Hernandez said. “It was hard. I had never played through injuries before. Every year I played, went home, and came back until I made the big leagues.”

Hernandez is an example of how a little move can pay off. When Felix Doubront — remember him? — was sent to the Cubs during the great trade deadline purge of 2014, Hernandez was the player the Sox received back four months later.

Hernandez hit .284 over 61 major league games from 2016-17 before the shoulder injury.

When Moreland returned to the injured list, Hernandez got the call he had been waiting for. He hit .299 with a .798 OPS in 42 minor league games, showing the Sox he still had fire in his bat.

Marco Hernandez signals to the bench as he stands on second base following his two-run double in Game 2 of the doubleheader.Adam Glanzman/Getty Images/Getty Images

“I wasn’t expecting it, but I was ready,” Hernandez said. “I had worked hard for this.”

Before the doubleheader, Hernandez said he felt more thankful than he did when he made his major league debut. Then he got a chance to pinch hit in the ninth inning of the first game and slapped a double down the line in right.

That helped earn him a start in Game 2 and he had a wall-scraping two-run double in the fifth inning to help the Sox to a 5-1 victory.

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Hernandez finished 2 for 5 with two doubles on a day he had long anticipated.

“Awesome,” Cora said. “We’re very proud of him.”


Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.