You could forgive Daniel Hernandez for being a little nervous when he took the hill Thursday. He was doing it, after all, for the first time in roughly 22 months.
The 2010 12th-round Draft pick missed all of 2011 following Tommy John surgery and returned to the mound in a competitive setting for the first time since Aug. 27, 2010. He proceeded to throw five perfect innings while striking out five in Rookie-level Burlington's 4-3 loss to Pulaski.
The 23-year-old admitted there was some anxiousness at first in taking the rubber for the first time after such a long layoff.
"I had a year-and-a-half after Tommy John to come back. I was nervous, I had butterflies in my stomach, stuff like that," he said. "But I tried to be relaxed, do my best. [At the end] I was pumped."
Hernandez pitched just 12 1/3 innings in his 2010 debut before being sidelined by the injury. Thursday's appearance was just the second start of his career, and he came into it with a pitch count of 60. Despite that, he managed to go the five innings, equaling the amount of frames he lasted in his only other start on July 1, 2010.
Hernandez said it was difficult to spend that much time away from baseball and he had been itching to get back on the mound in a meaningful game while he spent time at the Royals' extended spring training.
"It was frustrating, seeing everybody else pitch, it was getting me upset," he noted. "But I was just trying to do my thing, trying to come back hard."
The Miami native added that once he got going Thursday, it was easy to settle back in to just pitching again.
"After the first inning it was all good," he said. "I was hitting my spots, everything went my way. My coaches were talking to me [before the game], telling me to relax, and I was able to do good. I was surprised they let me go that far."
In his 2010 debut, Hernandez registered a 2.19 ERA over eight appearances with the Royals, compiling a 2-0 record. He struck out 13 and walked three over 12 1/3 innings before the injury to his right elbow put him on the shelf.
The road back after that, he said, was a long one that he was happy to have behind him.
"They took me slow. I had to throw bullpen [sessions], live batting practice [sessions]. One inning, two innings, one inning, two innings," he said. "I just wanted to get back strong, and I did, thank God."