Hernandez heating up for RoughRiders

Rangers No. 6 prospect yields three hits in six shutout frames

Jonathan Hernandez has racked up 134 strikeouts across two levels this season. (Shane Roper/MiLB.com)

By Josh Horton / MiLB.com | August 24, 2018 1:30 AM

Jonathan Hernandez is locked in -- literally. 

The sixth-ranked Texas prospect has gotten great results after revamping his throwing program. He spun six scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and striking out eight as Frisco nipped San Antonio, 4-3, in 11 innings at Nelson Wolff Stadium on Thursday. Hernandez threw 52 of his 87 pitches for strikes, not issuing any walks for the second time this season. 

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"Before games, before outings, everything. I changed my routine," Hernandez said. "All the hard work is paying off right now, in the right moment when we needed.

"Before I just was, 'Oh, let's play catch,' just throwing balls. But now I'm focusing, I know what I want to do. ... Now I come to the field every day with a plan. For example, today, I threw the ball to the glove side because every day in bullpens I throw the ball to my glove side with my throwing program. So everything is getting better right now." 

Hernandez was a breakout star in the Carolina League, posting a 4-2 record with a 2.20 ERA and 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 10 starts for Down East before being promoted to Frisco on June 11. He's had his ups and downs in the Texas League, but has dominated of late, posting a 1.14 ERA over his last four starts.

Video: RoughRiders' Hernandez fans Reed for eighth punchout

"It's a pretty good feeling that I can pitch here," Hernandez said. "I just need to be focused on what I want to do. I need to come to the field every day, work hard and put purpose into everything I do." 

Frisco pitching coach Greg Hibbard said he's noticed Hernandez start to mature since scuffling early in his stint in the Texas League. It all started with putting greater care into his work on the side. 

"I think it took him two or three starts to get his confidence going and fitting in with the club, but now it's just routine," the pitching coach said. "He goes out and he prepares and he doesn't panic.

"I think sometimes these young kids take playing catch for granted. They have such live arms and throw the ball with ease, that they don't really pay attention to the balance with the ground at the point of release of the baseball. Just controlling their core and the center of their body through the release of the baseball allows them to maintain and repeat those release points. I think he's just bought into a lot of things we've been working on to control his powerful delivery." 

The fact that Hernandez didn't issue a walk was probably the most encouraging sign from Hibbard's perspective.

"We've incorporated a lot of different 'strike' bullpens, just trying to get him to throw a lot of strikes and see that he can do that," the pitching coach added.

The son of former big leaguer Fernando Hernandez was born in Memphis but moved to the Dominican Republic when he was younger and signed with the Rangers as an international free agent for a $300,000 signing bonus in 2013. An uptick in velocity has vaulted his status as a prospect. He earned a spot in the Futures Game last year and an invite to big league Spring Training before this season. 

The 6-foot-2 right-hander outdueled MLB.com's No. 61 prospect, Michel Baez, who allowed two runs -- one earned -- on six hits and two walks while striking out six for the Missions. 

Hernandez was perfect through four innings before Kyle Overstreet's leadoff single in the fifth inning. No. 25 Padres prospect Austin Allen followed with a ground-rule double to left-center field that advanced Overstreet to third, but Hernandez worked out of the jam by forcing Hudson Potts to ground out, fanning Peter Van Gansen and inducing a groundout from Ruddy Giron

The Missions rallied in the ninth when Van Gansen roped a two-run double off reliever Brett Martin to tie the game, 2-2.  

Video: RoughRiders' Cardona makes diving catch to save game

Frisco grabbed the lead in the 10th after Franklin Rollin scored on a wild pitch by Jason Jester, but San Antonio knotted the score in the bottom half as Taylor Kohlwey plated Giron on a sacrifice fly to center. The Missions loaded the bases with two outs, but Jose Cardona made a diving catch in right field to deny Matthew Batten a walk-off hit. 

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"Man, that was sick, that was pretty sick," Hernandez said. "When we saw [Batten] hit the ball, we were just praying that Jose could catch the ball. He's a great outfielder, one of the best we have in the organization, and we were screaming to him, 'Hey, you got this,' from the dugout. He made the catch and we were going crazy, jumping, laughing." 

The RoughRiders went ahead for good in the 11th. Eliezer Alvarez scored the go-ahead run when Michael De Leon bounced into a double play. After allowing a run in the 10th, Walker Weickel (1-1) shut the door with a clean 11th to earn his first victory on the circuit.

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

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