Hernandez leads Rangers to AZL title

19-year-old catching prospect hits second postseason homer

Heriberto Hernandez hit .344/.433/.646 during the regular season in the Arizona League. (Zachary Lucy/Four Seam Images)

By Jordan Wolf / MiLB.com | August 31, 2019 1:44 AM

It took seven years, but the Rangers are back on top of the Arizona League.

Behind Heriberto Hernandez, who homered for the second night in a row and doubled, the Rangers toppled the Indians Blue, 7-2, to sweep their way to the championship on Friday at Surprise Stadium. They rolled to a 10-0 triumph in the series opener.

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"Even before the game, before the series, the staff and the players did a helluva job," Rangers manager Carlos Cardoza said. "So very satisfied and happy for the guys, for the players, that they were able to experience this after pretty much five months for this group of practicing and training hard."

The Rangers produced all the offense they needed in the first inning. They put together two walks and four hits, including RBI doubles from Hernandez and Stanley Martinez. Keyber Rodriguez singled in two runs with two outs to chase starter Jhonneyver Gutierrez, then scored on a base hit by Rafy Barete.

After their 10-0 romp a night earlier, coming out and putting up a five-spot in the first inning pushed the Indians Blue against the wall almost instantly. And while Cardoza said he doesn't think the Game 1 win had much of an effect on his team's early momentum, jumping out to a lead that big that early is always a huge advantage.

"It was big," he said. "I would highlight it has been a point of emphasis for our organization the whole year, just to come out and be ready to play and score first. ... That changes the game when you have that little bit of a cushion going into the top of the second."

Hernandez went deep in his next at-bat in the fourth, smacking a solo shot to left field off right-hander Nate Ocker. He also clubbed a three-run shot in Thursday's series opener, going 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored.

Cardoza would never expect a player to homer twice in two Finals games, but based on what he's seen out of Hernandez the past two seasons, he wasn't necessarily surprised.

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"Absolutely not, did not surprise me one bit," he said. "I've known him since the day he first signed, we were together in the [Dominican Republic]. He's been the same kid since the day he signed. ... He finds a way to get better every day. He finds a way to play hard, impact the game."

The 19-year-old catcher batted .344/.433/.646 during the regular season with a league-leading 48 RBIs in 50 games. He ranked second with 11 homers, two behind Connor Cannon of AZL Giants Orange, and third with a 1.079 OPS.

"He's been the dude, he's been the man all season long," Cardoza said. "His kind of numbers speak for himself."

Florencio Serrano (1-0) picked up the win after allowing two runs on six hits and three walks over five innings with a pair of strikeouts. Cardoza attributed some of that success to that of his last performance, in which he dealt five scoreless frames while allowing just two hits against the AZL Dodgers Mota in his regular season appearance.

"He just kind of was able to roll that into today and give us five competitive innings," he said.

He was followed by Glen Richardson, Cal Hehnke and Leon Hunter, who combined for four perfect innings to close it out. Richardson fanned three and Hunter struck out two.

2019 MiLB include

"They were nails," Cardoza said of the bullpen trio. "And honestly down the stretch, last week, two weeks of the season and the playoffs, they were nails. Obviously, credit to them, coaches, incredible job just preparing them to what they were going to face. They executed kind of our plan of attack against their offense."

Cardoza was with a large part of the team last season in the Dominican Summer League and watched as many of his key contributors fall one game short of winning the championship there. To come back and win the title this summer was immensely rewarding for him and inspires him to achieve similar success moving forward as he and the players continue their careers.

"Really proud of them, proud of the group, proud of what they've done, he said, "and looking forward to hopefully getting the chance to work with them in years to come and to see how they grow together and keep maturing as baseball players."

Jordan Wolf is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @byjordanwolf. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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