Name: Pedro Hernandez
DOB: April 12, 1989
Signed as an international free agent, Hernandez won a team-high seven games for the Dominican Summer League Padres in his debut 2008 season. Across 14 games, including seven starts, the left-hander posted a 1.42 ERA. In 63.1 innings, he allowed 50 hits, walked just six and struck out 74.
Brought stateside in 2009, Hernandez passed over the Arizona Rookie League and was given the Opening Day start with short-season Eugene. Most of this was based on his work in extended spring training. The staff commented on Hernandez' ability to throw strikes, work quickly and the added tick or two of velocity.
Things didn't work out as planned.
The diminutive southpaw ended up seeing action in six games for the Emeralds, going 0-2 with a 9.92 ERA. In 16.1 innings, Hernandez surrendered 31 hits and four walks. The opposition smoked him to the tune of a .408 average.
"We still have high hopes for our little Dominican Pedro Hernandez who lit it up in extended but had never played under the lights or with crowds," minor league field coordinator Tom Gamboa said. "I think he was a little bit in awe because his numbers in Eugene did not reflect what we saw down in Arizona."
"I think he was facing older hitters and more experienced hitters," Padres director of player development and international scouting Randy Smith said. "He got beat with his changeup a couple of times and backed off that a little bit."
"He had good innings and a bad inning. I think it is a matter of gaining confidence and trusting your stuff. Yes, you are going to get hit on occasion. He hasn't experienced a whole lot of that in the past. Just because they hit a certain pitch, doesn't mean you don't throw it again.
"I was pleased and surprised that they jumped him to the Northwest League. I thought he would be pitching in Arizona. He is a guy that has a good idea with good command. I thought it was a big leap for him. I was surprised. I was happy that the staff told him he could go there. I was actually surprised because he hadn't gotten his feet wet here before. But I think he was good for it."
He was demoted to the Arizona Rookie League and found his rhythm again. In seven games, including five starts, Hernandez went 4-0 with a 3.78 ERA. He held the opposition to a .260 average.
What was the difference? Perhaps giving hitters too much credit and going away from his best pitch – the changeup. The slip got hit a few times and his confidence in the pitch became non-existent. He was also overthrowing – pushing his fastball in an effort to make the velocity rise but working it right over the middle of the plate as the command wavered.
When he returned to Arizona, he got back to the basics of what worked in the DSL. Throwing first-pitch strikes, using his changeup in off-counts, and working in his curveball.
"He got fast," AZL Padres pitching coach Jimmy Jones said. "His mechanics got fast. I remember when he came back down from Eugene, I was talking to (Adys) Portillo and (Deiber) Sanchez and asked them if he was that fast in extended. They both said, ‘No, his tempo is a lot faster.' That was what made his arm drag because the rest of his body was too fast. He started to put it together in Arizona once he slowed his tempo down."
In Eugene, Hernandez became predictable. When asked to throw more changeups, he would abandon the curveball entirely or vice versa. When his pitches were getting hit, he would try and nibble and would either fall behind in the count or force a pitch right down the alley.
"He was our Opening Day starter here," former Eugene and current Fort Wayne pitching coach Bronswell Patrick said. "Pedro lost a little bit of confidence in his changeup. He is leaving it up in the zone. He wasn't leaving it up in Arizona the way he was here. This is a different league. Guys don't miss that pitch here. This is a college league and these guys have a good idea of how to hit. He has gotten in trouble with his fastball, throwing it right down the middle. Once again, these guys don't miss.
"For the most part, it has been his changeup. That is his bread and butter pitch. When you leave it up, it gets hit hard."
"I think he tried to be better than what he was," Smith said. "His stuff works anywhere. His velocity has actually increased."
The Venezuelan native works with a high-80s fastball that touched 91-92 mph. This was an increase over the previous year when his high was 88-90. It has late tailing action that produces ground ball outs.
He does not throw the fastball in to right-handed hitters. As a result, right-handed hitters are often sitting on the outside corner waiting to take advantage. He needs to better utilize the fastball in to righties – something he does well against left-handers. Lefties hit .171 off him across two leagues while righties swatted .345.
His changeup is a definitive plus pitch when he throws it with confidence. It has the same arm action as his fastball and offers a significant separation in velocity. The bottom drops out on the offering as it nears the batter, putting them on their front foot. Contact on the pitch is generally weak.
There are times when he pushes the ball and does not get full arm extension. He will short-arm the ball rather than coming straight over top with the ball. Hernandez' elbow drops and the movement of his pitches flattens out. When this happens, his changeup floats and can be crushed.
He needs to work on his curveball – a pitch that does not have consistent break and will get slurvy. Tightening up this pitch will be pivotal to his future success.
As a pitcher skipping a level, Hernandez let the pressure get to him. He felt like he had to do more and his confidence shattered as soon as the hits started to come. His confidence in his changeup was diminished as well.
He is an excitable young kid who is susceptible to big innings. He does not know how to close the floodgates. That should come with experience. He also gets antsy with people on base and can be baited into a balk. He will begin to rush his delivery, forcing the location of his pitches to suffer.
"He will bounce back. He needs to regain the confidence and he will be fine," Patrick said. "He needs to work down in the zone and use his off-speed pitches to keep the hitters off their stride."
"We challenged him in Eugene, he has polish and is a good strike thrower and his fastball comes in around 88-91," former director of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "At Eugene, I think he did what a lot of players do, gave the league above a little too much credit and got away from doing what got him there. We brought him back to the AZL, got him grounded again, and he will be ready to compete next year."
"He's a smart kid with a good feel for pitching, and I was glad to see him come back to Arizona and jump right back in and have success again," Smith said. "I think he's a guy to keep your eye on."
Conclusion: Hernandez might have been pushed a little too quickly last year. Regaining his confidence and delivery in Arizona should pay dividends in 2010. He knows what to expect and the extra year of seasoning could show increased maturity and a realization that he does not need to do anything different. If he improves upon his curveball and use a balance of three pitches, Hernandez has a bright future.
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