The 2019 season left a bad taste in the mouths of many around Boston as their beloved Red Sox finished 84-78, missing the playoffs just one year after winning the World Series. Many teams in other markets would be thrilled with an 84-win season, but the standards are much higher in Boston, and the team failed to reach those standards on multiple levels.
While Boston’s fearsome lineup still scored plenty of runs, the pitching staff as a whole struggled with inconsistency and injuries. Chris Sale, the team’s unquestioned ace, made just 25 starts and ended up having the worst season of his career, finishing with a 6-11 record and a 4.40 ERA. Sale struggled with elbow problems all season, and it eventually led to him undergoing Tommy John surgery in March, ruling him out of action until 2021.
David Price, who is now a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, also underperformed in 2019. Price battled the injury bug and made just 22 starts last season, going 7-5 with a 4.28 ERA. Price also added to the frustration by continuing to get into spats with Boston media members off the field. Meanwhile, Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi struggled on the mound with both proving to be unreliable and inconsistent throughout the season.
The lone bright spot in Boston’s rotation was 26-year-old Eduardo Rodriguez. He had a fantastic year, making a career-high 34 starts and finishing with a dazzling 19-6 record and a 3.31 ERA to go along with 213 strikeouts. Rodriguez finished sixth in the American League Cy Young Award voting.
Luckily for the Red Sox and their fans, Rodriguez was not the only young left-hander who made an impression in 2019; the team received an unexpected spark out of the bullpen from 23-year-old Darwinzon Hernandez. The young lefty signed with the Red Sox as an international free agent out of Venezuela back in 2014 when he was 17 years old. Since then, Hernandez has quickly worked his way through the team’s minor-league system.
In 2018 Hernandez split time between Boston’s Class-A and Double-A affiliates as a starter. He made 23 total starts that year, going 9-6 with a 3.53 ERA and 134 strikeouts. His impressive 2018 campaign propelled him to a spot on the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket, but his performance took a big hit once he got there. Hernandez made 12 starts in Triple A before eventually being moved to the bullpen. He had a 2-6 record and a 5.02 ERA before being called up to the major-league roster late in the season.
Hernandez immediately turned heads with his high-velocity fastball to go along with a big, looping curveball as part of his repertoire. His overall numbers from his 29-game major-league sample are less than impressive, finishing with a 4.45 ERA and 26 walks in 30 innings pitched, which is far too many and too frequent at the major-league level. However, Hernandez is still incredibly young and has plenty of room to develop and fine-tune his overall game. A scouting report on Hernandez completed by SoxProspects.com determined that Hernandez could potentially be a valuable late-inning reliever.
“Summation: Definite major league quality arm, but ultimate role is still to be decided. Likely is best suited for the bullpen, where his stuff could play up and secondary pitches and command would not need to develop as much. Has potential late inning stuff in that role. If his breaking ball or changeup and command and control improve, could develop into a number three/four starter. Still learning to incorporate secondary pitches and not rely too much on his fastball. Has gotten consistently better as he’s moved up the ladder and made strides each year.”
The Red Sox will have to decide soon whether to stretch out Hernandez and try to develop him as a starter or keep him in the bullpen and sharpen his skills as a late-inning reliever. He showed promise as a starter in the lower levels of the minor leagues, but he struggled mightily as he worked his way up to tougher opposition.
Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 245 pounds, Hernandez certainly possesses an impressive physical build that can support the immense tax that pitching upwards of 200 innings every year can take on a player’s body.
Boston’s rotation is in shambles. Sale is out indefinitely, and Porcello and Price have gone to new teams, so the Red Sox may very well be tempted to try out Hernandez as a starter to see if he can be a future building block in their rotation. That said, their bullpen is equally decrepit, so leaving Hernandez in the bullpen as a late-inning, hard-throwing left-hander could prove to be even more valuable.
Regardless of what the Red Sox decide to do with Hernandez, his mechanics along with his age and potential make him an exciting prospect for fans to keep their eye on.