Jesse Hernandez took the mound in the seventh inning on Tuesday with the same mentality he had in the first, minus the nerves and pressure of pitching close to home. That was already old news.
The Blue Jays prospect worked a perfect seventh, striking out the final batter he faced to pick up the win in his Class A debut as the Lansing Lugnuts beat the Dayton Dragons, 6-2, at Fifth Third Field.
The 23-year-old right-hander struck out eight and held the Dragons to one hit over seven innings, earning the win in front of his girlfriend and others from his hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., who made the trip to Dayton.
"Yeah, I had a good nervous feeling in my belly," Hernandez said. "But once the game got going, I kind of shook it off."
Hernandez did not allow a ball out of the infield all night, even when Ryan Wright broke up his no-hit bid in the fourth with a two-out single that eluded shortstop Andrew Burns. He allowed just one other baserunner -- Theo Bowe drew a two-out walk in the sixth.
"It was a ground ball to the left side in the hole, it was a tough play and [Burns] almost came up with it," Hernandez said of the lone hit. "I stayed with my game plan there, just get my ground balls."
Hernandez induced five straight ground balls to begin the game before striking out Steven Selsky to end the second. A sinkerballer who went undrafted two years ago, he had it all working in his full-season debut.
"Going into the game, I knew they were aggressive and liked to swing early," he said. "Me being a sinkerballer, I wanted to go at them and keep the game moving. I did that early on and they kind of stayed back and I snuck in a few strikeouts. It was the same approach all the way through."
Hernandez's one-hit line capped a busy few weeks that saw the Central Michigan product get assigned to Lansing, not far from where he grew up. He's already had family come out to a game in Lansing and was amped to get his first start in Dayton. Plus, the Lugnuts are one of only three undefeated teams in the Minor Leagues.
"Oh, yeah, I was really pumped," Hernandez said. "I lived 45 minutes away from our ballpark in Lansing. [My family] came out in our home opener in the crosstown showdown against Michigan State and there was a good turnout there. And my girlfriend came out today, since she's closer to Dayton."
By the time Hernandez reached the seventh, he wasn't sure if it'd be his last inning.
"I felt fine [in the seventh]. I knew they had a game plan with my pitches, but I wasn't sure how many I threw," he said. "I respect the coaches' decision. I had a little steam in the tank, but it's up to them."
Hernandez got a boost in the fifth when Lansing scored five times to break a scoreless tie. Burns hit a two-run homer, Carlos Perez delivered a two-run single following a double steal and K.C. Hobson capped the outburst with an RBI hit to right.
"It's huge. The hitters came up big that inning, they were playing good all night defensively," Hernandez said. "That's a big pick-me-up there when it's close, when they bust out. It was awesome."
Hernandez signed with the Blue Jays in 2010 and spent the last two years with Rookie-level and short-season affiliates in the Gulf Coast, New York-Penn and Northwest leagues. After a brief taste of the Midwest League on Tuesday, he said it's too early to say whether the opposition is any better than what he faced in Vancouver last summer.
"It's hard to say right now, only having one outing against league opponents. I'd say it's about the same after my first outing," he said. "I know hitters will get better as the season goes on. But I'd have to say it's about the same."
The righty went 4-4 with a 4.28 ERA in over 75 2/3 innings in 15 starts for the Northwest League champions last season. This spring, he's put an emphasis on staying healthy and consistent.
"Basically, my big goal was to stick with my routine through the good and bad," he said. "That way, I can develop consistency throughout the season."
Hernandez's gem came one night after Justin Nicolino, the Blue Jays' No. 6 prospect struck out five over three hitless innings in his Class A debut. The left-hander was Toronto's second-round pick in 2010.
The Lugnuts' 5-0 start matches the 2004 squad for the best in team history.