Injuries and ineffectiveness have fallen upon the Orioles 2009 pitching staff, but not many expected too much out of the rotation this year. What was not expected was immediate help from the young pitchers in Norfolk.
However, if trends continue, the Orioles seem to have the advantage with their young pitchers. Dating back to August 5, 2008, Chris Waters' debut, Orioles rookie pitchers, excluding Uehara, have gone 3-0 and combined for 18.0 innings while giving up just three earned runs.
None of the three who are now a part of the rotation (Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken and now David Hernandez) were highly regarded prospects by those outside of the organization. They are not on any of the major national prospect lists. Ask fans outside of the Baltimore area who they are, and you might get some puzzling looks.
While Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz have been referred to as the big three, the corps of Bergy, Berken, and Hernandez have grown as pitchers together, pitching on the same staffs since 2007, where they all met in Frederick. Bergesen was the first taken in the fourth round of the 2004 draft and Berken was taken in the sixth round of the 2006 draft. David Hernandez was sandwiched between the two and was taken in the 2005 draft, but fell all the way to the 16th round; quite the find.
Now, all three are pitching on the biggest stage for the organization that drafted and developed them.
What can fans expect from Hernandez? He has compiled quite the stat line and has been forcing the Orioles' hand to bring him up with quality performance after quality performance. His most recent outing, a 7.1 inning 14-strikeout start sealed the deal after Uehara proved he will not be able to make his next start, pushing him to the disabled list.
Hernandez has pitched in 43.1 innings over just eight starts, averaging 5.4 innings per start, the best of his career. Not coincidentally, he is also averaging career bests with 2.7 BB/9 IP, 12.5 K/9 IP and a 1.06 WHIP. The statistics show remarkable improvements in command.
As the previous two rookies displayed, expect Hernandez to attack the zone instead of nibbling on the edges. He works both sides of the plate and is not afraid to come inside.
In talking Mike Griffin last year, Bowie's pitching coach at the time, he said that Hernandez had a slight mechanical problem with his delivery in that sometimes his head would drift towards first base during his delivery. Last year they were working on getting him to go straight towards home.
With his newfound control, Hernandez will bring a deceptively hard 91-93 mph exploding fastball, in that it often jumps on hitters with its late movement and is hidden in his delivery. In Bowie, in 2008, he showed the ability to reach back and add a couple ticks to that fastball when he had to. His slider was inconsistent, but he showed the slider has potential to be a plus pitch for him. He has a change, but he did not use it often last year, as he did not get into favorable counts for that pitch regularly (he averaged 4.5 BB/9 IP).
Striking out guys at the top level will not be easy, and the task will be even more difficult against the Detroit Tigers. Only the Orioles, Angels and Athletics have struck out fewer times than the Tigers have. Hernandez, when he gets outs via contact, is a flyball pitcher, getting only 0.69 groundouts for every flyout, which is not much of a problem for Harbor Park, but could be at Oriole Park. Hernandez will need to get batters out efficiently like he did in his last start, as in the past, he has stacked up a lot of pitches in deep counts.
With the addition of Hernandez to the big club, this will be one exciting week of Orioles baseball: Berken in his debut, followed by Hernandez, and then of course, Matt Wieters on Friday.