Hernandez coming back strong from injury

Buddy Hernandez missed two full seasons, but he's picked up right where he left off before his Tommy John Surgery. The right-handed reliever has a 1.08 ERA in 15 games in Triple-A Richmond with a 5-0 record. Here's an interview with Hernandez before the start of the season.

SHANKS: First of all, how are you feeling?
HERNANDEZ: I feel good. I feel real good. Strong. Excited. I'm just ready to get back out there and start competing again.

SHANKS: When was your Tommy John surgery?
HERNANDEZ: February 20th in 2006. I haven't pitched in a game since April of 05 because I tried to rehab before surgery and it just didn't work out. So it's been almost two full years since I've pitched in a game.

SHANKS: Did you think you were going to need surgery when you were rehabbing in 05, or did you want to avoid it at all costs?
HERNANDEZ: I was obviously hoping to avoid it at all costs. It would seem like we would make some progress and then we had a little bit of a setback. Then we thought the rest of the offseason would calm it down. It was just so hard because the MRIs were coming back and were not showing anything. So they're just not going to cut you open unless there is a definitive answer on the image, and it just wasn't showing up. So that's why it took longer on deciding about the surgery.

SHANKS: It would almost have been better if it had been completely torn.
HERNANDEZ: Right. If it would have shown up right away, I could have pitched at the end of last year and been ready to go. But I feel good and I'm ready to get back out there.

SHANKS: Is the mental part the toughest part about coming back?
HERNANDEZ: Yeah I believe it's probably a lot more important than the physical stuff. Your body can get through it. It's just a matter of your mind getting you through each day – one day at a time. There are peaks and valleys. One day you'll feel like everything is feeling good, and then the next day you might be a little sore. That's part of the rehab process. Your mind is a powerful thing. You have to tell yourself, ‘hey there's light at the end of the tunnel.' I almost tried to not look ahead, but looking back to see where I was six months ago. I wasn't even throwing a baseball, and then I was throwing off a mound, and then getting ready to pitch in games. So you just have to take it one day at a time and it'll work out.

SHANKS: What is the one thing you have to worry about coming back to you – velocity or location?
HERNANDEZ: I would think it's going to be location, since you're going to get stronger and stronger the further away you get from your surgery and the rehab process. They say sometimes it's two years until you're confident and back. So if I can just come back and have my location, which is what I relied on before, I know I can still get people out.

SHANKS: You've always been the unheralded underdog. You never saw your name on the prospect lists, but every year you'd go out and get the job done. With you having this surgery, this is just another obstacle for you to overcome and succeed.
HERNANDEZ: Right. I think it's just another step in the process. Some guys have the easy way, and some guys take the long route. I was fortunate enough to be healthy early on in my career, but it's just part of the game. They know what I can do when I'm healthy. If I get back to that point, and I feel like I'm just about there now, it's just going to all come back. Once that happens, they're going to see that I'm ready to go.

SHANKS: Before you got hurt, and when you had that year in Richmond in 2004, how close do you think you were to being able to compete for a big league job?
HERNANDEZ: From the way I take it, I was in big league camp in 05 and was one of the last guys cut. I think it came down to that trade there at the end of spring training when they got Jorge Sosa. Who knows, if they don't make that trade maybe I make that club. Maybe I don't, but you can't look back now. It's just a matter of going out there and putting up my numbers again. Bobby (Cox) saw me in spring training that year and I had a great spring, so he knows what I can do. Once he finds out if I'm pitching well, maybe he'll give me a chance.

SHANKS: But did you think as far as your stuff and ability you were ready right then in the spring of 2005?
HERNANDEZ: Oh yeah. The way I was pitching that spring and the way I started off in Richmond, I felt real good. I knew I was one phone call away, but luck turned against me and I got hurt.

SHANKS: With Tommy John surgery, so many people think they can get it out of the way and get back to the way they were before. You had never had this pop up before had you?
HERNANDEZ: No this was totally out of the blue. Knock on wood, I've been healthy my whole career and haven't had any problems whatsoever. I've been working hard, so it's just a matter of going out and pitching. I'll be working with Guy (Hansen) and he's a heck of a pitching coach. We work well together.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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