Darwinzon Hernandez threw three shutout innings in a spring training game back in March, looking so good that it seemed premature to say the 22-year-old lefthander’s best use to the Red Sox this season would be as a relief pitcher.
A quick trip to the seats behind home plate squashed that story idea.
“Oh, no, he’s a reliever and probably a pretty good one,” a scout said. “His command gets too streaky to start long-term.”
Another evaluator concurred.
“Bullpen. He’ll help them in the summer I think,” he said.
That projection played out on Tuesday night against the Texas Rangers. In his first start for the Sox, Hernandez struck out the side in the first inning then punched out Nomar Mazara with a 96-m.p.h. fastball to start the second.
Eight of the next 14 batters reached base safely, five on walks. Hernandez threw only 42 of 86 pitches for strikes and allowed four runs.
That Hernandez has dynamite stuff can’t be denied. He hit 98 with his fastball and threw some impressive sliders. But he missed low, high, inside and outside.
If Hernandez had some sort of plan of how he wanted to pitch the Rangers, it wasn’t apparent.
“The stuff is great and all that,” manager Alex Cora said. “But obviously he was erratic.”
It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Hernandez has averaged 7.1 walks per nine innings at Double A Portland this season.
But in short, more-focused stints, Hernandez could be a useful reliever for the major league team in another month or two.
The Sox have done the absolute right thing developing him as a starter because you have to give a talented pitcher that opportunity. But at some point they’ll have to change the path he’s on. It doesn’t seem to be working.
In that sense, Hernandez is much like the team he played for on Tuesday: Talented but flawed and something sure has to change.
A 9-5 loss against the Rangers was the aesthetic low point of the season as the Sox lost for the fifth time in six games and fell back to .500 at 34-34.
Sox pitchers walked eight and there were two errors including a routine popup that Rafael Devers let bounce out of his glove.
Andrew Benintendi was ejected in the fifth inning after he grounded out then Cora followed him to the clubhouse after unleashing what seemed to be weeks of pent-up rage on first base umpire Vic Carapazza.
Benintendi, whose usual idea of emotion is a raised eyebrow, said he hadn’t been ejected since a minor league game in 2016. He was upset with the pitch prior to the ground out, a borderline changeup that plate umpire Angel Hernandez called a strike.
“I was frustrated,” Benintendi said. “All I said was, ‘You suck.’ Angel didn’t even know I was thrown out until I went back out there so obviously he didn’t hear that.”
Cora was angry that Benintendi was ejected while he was walking away from the play and stuck up for him.
But that wasn’t the worst part of the night. Hunter Pence hit a fly ball down the line in right field in the sixth inning that Brock Holt tried to make a leaping grab of. Holt missed the ball and got caught up in the front row of the stands.
The ball rolled along the warning back toward the visitors’ bullpen. Pence raced around the bases for an unchallenged two-run inside-the-park homer.
The ball actually came to a dead stop and sat there as Pence scored. The fans were closer than any Red Sox player.
Holt said he assumed the ball had gone over the fence.
“I had no idea it was still in play. That’s kind of embarrassing on my part,” said Holt, who on Monday night ran through a stop sign and was thrown out at the plate to end the ninth inning of a 3-3 game the Sox went on to lose.
“I’ve got to do a better job of paying more attention. That one was on me.”
It was the seventh loss in the last eight home games. They all need to a better job.
“You can see it. I think guys are frustrated,” Holt said. “We try not to be but games like tonight, it’s embarrassing. We’re not playing well. We’re not playing up to our capabilities.”
The Bruins season ends Wednesday and the Sox will have the full attention of the sporting public. There’s not much to like.
If the players are frustrated, as Holt said, wait until they see how the fans start to react if this keeps up.