Right from the outset, Class A Quad Cities pitching coach Chris Holt could tell Elieser Hernandez had brought his A-game to the mound against Dayton.
The Astros prospect recorded a career-high 14 strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings on Friday, allowing two runs on three hits and a walk before the River Bandits fell, 3-2, to visiting Dayton.
Hernandez started the game with two strikeouts before Nick Senzel reached on catcher's interference. The 21-year-old right-hander picked up his batterymate by getting the next batter, Kevin Franklin, to pop out to short.
"He had electricity from the first inning on and his fastball had really good life throughout the entire game," Holt said. "When he was able to start elevating his fastball and got swings and misses, both in and out of the zone, you knew it was going to be a good night for him."
Hernandez struck out two more in the second and seemed in control until Shed Long took him deep for a two-run homer in the third. Despite the misstep, the native of Venezuela settled down, fanning seven of nine hitters between the fourth and sixth.
"He went right back to work after the home run," Holt said. "He went 0-1 on the next guy and got him out in a three-pitch at-bat. He came out the following inning and went right back to work. He looked pretty comfortable all game. He attacked the zone throughout and was able to locate his pitches all night. He came out with electricity and was able to maintain it. He proved he can really do some things with his stuff tonight."
Striking out 14 of 24 batters was impressive enough, but according to Holt, that doesn't tell the whole story.
"He was really solid tonight in doing some really simple things that aren't always simple to do," the pitching coach said. "Of the 24 hitters he went up against, 18 of them faced 0-2 or 1-2 counts and he was able to put 15 of those hitters away. He got 12 of his 19 outs on four or less pitches. He was able to do some really special things, like getting ahead and staying ahead, then putting guys away.
"You also need to give a lot of credit to catcher Christian Correa tonight. He called a good game and worked with a solid plan."
After Hernandez posted a 3.12 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 15 combined appearances for Class A Short Season Tri-City and Quad Cities in 2015, the Astros assigned him to Class A Advanced Lancaster to begin this season. He struggled in the hitter-friendly California League and returned to Quad Cities after a putting up a 9.10 ERA in eight appearances for the JetHawks. With the River Bandits, Hernandez has pitched to a 2.05 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 44 innings.
"We're seeing the results of the work that he's put in," Holt said. "It speaks to his ability to remain focused on doing what he's here to do, which is to get his delivery consistent and get consistency with three things: attacking the strike zone with quality fastballs, being able to get consistent action on his slider and his changeup and to change locations on his out pitches."
The River Bandits trailed, 2-0, when Hernandez exited, but tied it in the seventh as Connor Goedert hit an RBI double and Pat Porter scored on a double play.
Designated hitter James Vasquez put the Dragons ahead for good when he took Ralph Garza (1-1) deep leading off the ninth.
Dayton starter Austin Orewiler allowed a hit and a walk and struck out four in five scoreless innings.
Michael Leboff is a contributor to MiLB.com.