In spring training, Roberto Hernandez was making a bid to make the Toronto Blue Jays. He has 10 years’ worth of Major League Baseball pitching experience, the majority with the Cleveland Indians and most recently with the Houston Astros.
But Aaron Sanchez took a spot in the starting rotation and Hernandez asked for his release before Opening Day to see if he could find a major league job.
The right opportunity never opened up and the Blue Jays needed pitching depth for the Bisons, so they signed the 35-year-old right-hander to a minor league deal and sent him to Buffalo.
He made his first start in his second career stint with the Herd on Wednesday, throwing four shutout innings and taking a no-decision in the Bisons’ 2-1 10-inning win over the Rochester Red Wings at Coca-Cola Field.
Hernandez is no stranger to the downtown Buffalo ballpark. He made 18 starts and appeared in 20 games for the Bisons from 2004-06, while the Herd was a Cleveland affiliate and he was pitching under the name Fausto Carmona. He went 2-0 with a 2.77 earned run average in two playoff starts for the Bisons when they won the 2004 Governors’ Cup.
But those days, he noted, were a long time ago.
“I don’t think about it at all,” the native of the Dominican Republic said in his still thick accent. “Today’s a new day.”
So what went into his decision to sign the minor league deal with the Blue Jays?
“Oh wow, that’s a good question,” Hernandez said. “I stayed home and somebody called me and I said ‘Let me go. Let me try.’ I feel good. Let me try one more time.”
The Blue Jays signed him as a free agent on April 20 and he spent a week in extended spring training before arriving in Buffalo.
His pitch limit was 60, and he hit 58 pitches through four innings with 39 for strikes and induced six ground ball outs.
“I feel good. I don’t try to overthrow it, keep the ball down and,” get “ground balls,” Hernandez said. “I like it because I’m moving the ball both sides and I throw strikes.”
Herd manager Gary Allenson liked it as well.
“I saw a pretty good sinker,’ Allenson said. “The slider has got to get sharper. The changeup was decent there but he’s got really good movement on his fastball. Real good sink there and he’s going to get a lot of ground balls.
“He had 60 pitches today so bump him up 10-15 pitches next time out. He’ll start again in five more days and if he does a good enough job with the Major League experience he’s got, he’s an option if something happens in Toronto.”
Backing up Hernandez was Arnold Leon, also making his Bisons’ debut after he was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays on April 13. Leon, who made two appearances with Toronto, came in the scoreless game in the fifth and had a rocky start. Three straight hits helped Rochester take a 1-0 lead. But the righty found his groove, retiring the final 10 batters he faced.
More importantly for a weary Bisons bullpen, he went four innings throwing 50 pitches.
“I think Leon is more of a command-type guy where he hits his spots and stuff,” Allenson said. “You know what, if you were to tell me a guy comes in relief and he’s going to give up one run in four innings would I take it? There’s the obvious answer there.”