Darwinzon Hernandez's emergence as one of the Carolina League's premier starters is proving that he's one of the best bang-for-your buck investments in the Minors. The seventh-ranked Red Sox prospect advanced that case with a stellar effort Friday night.
Hernandez yielded a hit and two walks while racking up nine punchouts over six innings as Class A Advanced Salem blanked Down East, 5-0, at Haley Toyota Field. The 22-year-old took over the Carolina League lead with 124 strikeouts while reducing his ERA to 3.56 in his 23rd start on the year.
"I hate getting hit. I hate it when hitters hit my pitches. I don't like any hitters to get the best of me," Hernandez told The Boston Globe through a translator in April. "At the risk of not sounding too arrogant or cocky, my fastball is very uncomfortable for hitters. You don't know where it's going to go -- if it's going to go inside, outside, sink. I read that the most effective pitch in the big leagues was a slider, so I wanted to perfect that to have another way to get guys out."
Video: Salem's Hernandez picks up ninth strikeout
Signed out of Venezuela for $7,500 in 2013, Hernandez (9-5) has gone unscored upon in eight outings this season. On July 8, the left-hander took a no-hitter into the sixth against Potomac but did not complete that frame.
Friday's effort marked the second time he's thrown six innings without allowing a run. It was also his second consecutive scoreless performance, as he surrendered three hits and struck out nine while keeping Carolina off the board for 4 1/3 innings on Aug. 4.
That start against the Mudcats preceded a groin injury that sidelined him for 10 days.
Gameday box score
In his return, Hernandez struck out the first four batters he faced. He got Andretty Cordero to bounce out to third and yielded successive walks to Yanio Perez and Ricardo Valencia before punching out Alex Kowalczyk to end the second.
The southpaw plunked Rangers No. 11 prospect Anderson Tejeda with two outs in the sixth but fanned Charles Leblanc to complete his outing. He threw 52 of 84 pitches for strikes.
The pair of walks point to an issue with the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder's overall profile. Hernandez averages 4.28 walks per nine innings in his past eight starts, a rate he's decreased since posting a 6.1 mark three months into the season. Should he figure out his command issues, Hernandez can make a push to take that next step forward.
"My goal actually [for this year] is to go to Double-A and hopefully get a September callup, but if not, then finish the year in Double-A and next year be on a fast track to be up there in the big leagues," Hernandez told the newspaper. "[But] the main thing for me has always been that I love to work. . . . I want that fifth day to be perfect."
Top Rangers prospect Leody Taveras picked up the Wood Ducks' only hit against Hernandez with a one-out single in the third but was caught trying to steal second. Hernandez retired the next five batters before Valencia reached on an error by shortstop C.J. Chatham.
Daniel Gonzalez was credited with his third save after recording the final nine outs, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out five.
Josh Tobias had three knocks, including a double, giving him hits in each of the 11 games he's played with Salem. The 25-year-old opened the season with Double-A Portland but has stayed in the Carolina League since Aug. 5 for an extended rehab assignment following a DL stint that kept him out nearly two months.