Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Lanky lefty plays for Ks
Goldeyes' Hernandez uses sweet change-up to baffle batters
Nick HERNANDEZ is not on the mound to throw balls and give hitters a free trip to first base. He's on the mound for one reason: To get up on the count and strike them out.
And that's exactly what he's doing, to a remarkable degree. Through 10 starts and 61 innings pitched, Hernandez has compiled 53 Ks ands given up only nine walks, allowing to him to pitch deep into games.
He sits in ninth in the league in strikeouts, only a few behind the leader, but it's his low number of walks and 5-1 record that separate him from the pack. All of this in just his first year in the American Association.
While most pitchers aim for a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio, Hernandez said he's always thrown a lot of strikes and been a low-walk kind of guy -- something he picked up at an early age.
"Growing up, my dad was catcher and he played professional baseball, he was always catching me," said the 6-4 Hernandez, who earned a season-high nine strikeouts in a game against the New Jersey Jackals earlier this season.
"He taught me at a very early age to throw the ball over the plate and let hitters hit the ball. You know, you got seven guys behind you that can catch the ball pretty well and there's not a lot of gaps out there.
"So I'm gonna let those seven guys behind me and the one guy in front of me catch the ball as much as they possibly can."
Hernandez also credits his relationship with catcher Luis Alen.
He said he's always comfortable throwing whatever pitch Alen calls for, there's never doubt about what pitch to throw.
Leading the league in strikeouts is not something he strives toward, but he knows it's what the fans want to see, especially at Shaw Park, where Fish fans get free pancakes for the occasional sit down.
So what's his secret weapon? That would be his change-up, a pitch in his arsenal the 25-year-old feels he best commands.
"I throw it with the same arm speed as my fast ball, same grip and everything, so it looks like a fast ball coming out of my hand," he said, noting when he combines it with his upper-80s fastball, it gives the hitter something to think about.
"I'd say probably 60-70 per cent of all my strikeouts have been on my change-up."
So how did this Philadelphia Phillies draft pick from Tennessee find himself in a Fish jersey?
After being released earlier this year on the last day of his fifth spring season training camp with a double-A affiliate squad, Hernandez decided to give independent baseball a shot, hoping it would lead to more innings under his belt.
After plenty of offers to play elsewhere, Hernandez answered yes to mangager Rick Forney's offer to be a Winnipeg Goldeye and made the two-day drive from Nashville.
"When I came to Winnipeg I didn't really know what to expect. I was familiar with the league because a couple buddies of mine played in the American Association," Hernandez said.
"They said it was good baseball and I was going to probably the best location for this league... You know, I'm happy here, I don't think I've ever been around a group of closer-knit guys."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 13, 2014 B11
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