There was a black suitcase stowed to the right of one of the players’ stalls in the Red Sox clubhouse Tuesday afternoon.
The luggage belonged to 22-year-old lefthander Darwinzon Hernandez, who had been recalled from Triple A Pawtucket only a few hours prior to first pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays. The quick trip up to Fenway Park was Hernandez’s fourth of the season, with each prior visit lasting only a day.
But manager Alex Cora anticipates Hernandez will experience a bit of a lengthier stay this time. Just how long is very much undetermined, though there’s certainly an opportunity for the youngster to prove he’s worth retaining.
Relievers Ryan Brasier and Hector Velázquez were both optioned to Pawtucket this week, as Cora and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski attempt to mitigate the team’s glaring struggles out of a shuffling bullpen.
“We’ve been saying all along, ‘We got to get better, we got to get better,’” Cora said before Tuesday’s 10-4 loss. “It’s July — what? 15th? 16th? Yeah, we better get better now.”
Projected closer Nathan Eovaldi still has yet to pitch a rehab assignment following elbow surgery — Cora expects it to take place Wednesday or Thursday, weather permitting.
“We feel like he can contribute here,” Cora said. “We feel like his stuff will play. Even when he makes mistakes with his fastball in the zone, it plays.”
Hernandez pitched a scoreless eighth Tuesday, walking one and striking out two.
Hernandez’s previous appearance was his first career MLB start in which he both flashed his potential and exposed his deficiencies. After striking out the side in the first inning — a performance Cora called “electric” — he walked five of the next 15 batters and gave up four earned runs. He finished the night with a 48.8 strike percentage.
Cora is hopeful that utilizing Hernandez as a reliever will allow him to hone his command and be more aggressive in the strike zone.
Although Hernandez was deployed primarily as a starter in the minors, Cora seems optimistic the shorter stints could facilitate success in the majors.
“This is more of a sprint,” Cora said. “It’s not about going six or seven. It’s about getting that guy out. We’ll take it step-by-step. Just get this guy out, and if he does, get the next one and the next one. We’ll see where it takes us. Stuff-wise, we feel like he’ll be fine.”
“He doesn’t have to worry about holding anything back or about trying to get 30, 40, 50, 60 pitches deep,” added Red Sox minor league pitching coordinator Dave Bush. “He can let his stuff eat for an inning or two at a time and throw enough strikes to get guys out.”
Via an interpreter, Hernandez said the transition to the bullpen has been smooth. In his last four Triple A appearances as a reliever, he logged a 61.1 strike percentage, walked one batter, and gave up four runs in 4⅓ innings.
Hernandez noted that there isn’t much of a difference between his preparations as a starter and as a reliever, but further adjustments may be needed as his tenure in Boston continues. The lefty has pitched on back-to-back days only once this season.
Regardless of his role, however, Hernandez said he’ll embrace any change to take the mound.
“I’m just here to pitch, so wherever they want to put me, as long as I’m able to help the team, that’s fine with me,” Hernandez said.