Despite Hernandez’s illustrious prime, Seattle never made the postseason. He slowed down in recent years, largely because of injury, prompting the sides to part. Hernandez signed a non-guaranteed deal with the Braves this winter, hoping he finally would experience postseason play.
Hernandez appeared to have made the club with an encouraging spring training, but the COVID-19 crisis ceased baseball for the foreseeable future. Hernandez finished with a 1.98 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 13-2/3 innings (four outings).
The season’s delay spoiled what seemed to be a successful first step of his career’s next phase. Hernandez, who showed impressive stuff despite a velocity dropoff, insisted a string of injuries was to blame for his decline.
Hernandez continuously said he thought he would win one of the Braves’ rotation openings throughout spring training. He’s since been at his home in Miami, working out in anticipation of a season.
“It was different, but it was a challenge I took and I really, really liked it,” Hernandez said, recalling spring training in a Braves uniform. “I’ve still got it. I’m really, really confident (laughs). I was in really good shape and I’m healthy.”
It will be challenging for Hernandez to reach his desired milestones. He currently has 169 wins and falls 476 strikeouts short of 3,000. He’d need to play multiple seasons to reach those numbers, a task that grows more difficult with a shortened or canceled campaign.
His win total is tied with Clayton Kershaw for the fifth-most among active pitchers. The only two active players with more than 200 wins are Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, with Jon Lester at 190. Hernandez is fifth among active pitchers in strikeouts, with Verlander the only current player to exceed 3,000.
First things first: There needs to be a 2020 season. Hernandez would presumably make the Braves’ expanded roster, though that’s not a lock. He’d then need to show he can still be productive and worth another contract, be it from the Braves or someone else, next season.
Hernandez’s comeback story was interrupted by powers out of his control. Whenever baseball resumes, it’ll be on him to overcome another obstacle to continue his playing career – and possibly reach his lofty milestones.