Well Orioles fans, David Hernandez will be your fifth starter in the rotation following Chris Tillman’s move to AAA Norfolk. This comes as a surprise to many as Tillman was essentially handed the job in March, though the coaches allowed for a good amount of competition between Tillman, Hernandez, and Jason Berken. Oddly enough, David Hernandez didn’t have an ERA much worse than Tillman’s last year, yet received a lot more harsh criticism than the 21-year-old phenom did during the season. That might be connected to the fact that Hernandez was never considered the level of prospect that Tillman was, and didn’t benefit from the publicity that the Seattle prospect did following the Bedard trade a couple years ago. He’ll get that attention now.
When looking at the two players’ spring training performances, I try not to read too much into it (as I have stated many times before. However, a few things do stand out. Tillman consistently struggled with his command, with a 1-1 walks-strikeouts ratio. That will not get it done in the regular season, and probably alarmed the coaching staff more than his ERA, which was quite good taken on its own. He may have sealed up the spot he was essentially given were it not for the lights-out innings that Hernandez pitched. He allowed just three walks to twenty strikeouts in his 15 innings of work, and had movement and command of all of his pitches. The decision was not that surprising if you take the names off of the back of the jersey- Tillman just wasn’t ready yet for the season to start, and with a week to go, Hernandez was.
The fifth starter is going to be incredibly important in the first month and a half, when the O’s take on an incredibly difficult schedule (overall the 2nd toughest in the majors) and have few days off. The coaching staff couldn’t take a chance with the inconsistency of Chris Tillman and had to go with the guy who did about as well last season, despite his 4-10 record. This move also has implications beyond the starting rotation. Hernandez’s promotion almost assures Jason Berken of a role as the long man in the bullpen and may open up yet another spot. Hernandez wasn’t going to go back to Norfolk- it was going to be either the bullpen or the rotation in Baltimore.
If you recall, Chris Tillman was brought up out of necessity, months sooner than the front office had hoped to bring him along- this trip to Norfolk will give him the experience he didn’t get last season and probably help him for the future. Don’t be mistaken, Tillman will be in Baltimore at some point this summer. When he is, he will be ready and a much better pitcher than he is now.
I’m reminded of when David Hernandez was pitching at AA Bowie and my brother and I went to a game there to see Brad Bergesen, Nolan Reimold, and Matt Wieters. It was autograph day before the game and my brother and I were in line at a table that featured David Hernandez and a relief pitcher whose name escapes me. When I got up to the line for the reliever, he looked at me and said “What the heck do you want my autograph for? That guy [Hernandez] is going to be great.” Now Hernandez has a chance to prove it.