Jonathan Hernandez may have bent, but he did not break in Game 1 of the Carolina League semifinals.
Texas' No. 21 prospect allowed one run on four hits over 5 1/3 innings as Class A Advanced Down East defeated Myrtle Beach, 4-1, on Thursday. Hernandez struck out seven, walked three and threw 57 of 93 pitches for strikes.
Hernandez didn't make things easy on himself in the first inning. The 21-year-old loaded the bases after hitting Willson Contreras, giving up a single to Vimael Machin and issuing a two-out walk to Tyler Alamo. He got out of inning when Eddy Martinez grounded out to third. Down East took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the frame when Matt Lipka belted a home run.
"They had him on the ropes. He's growing and getting more mature," Wood Ducks pitching coach Steve Mintz said. "There were times this year where he'd let the game dictate the speed that he would go Tonight it was obvious that he was under control."
The Memphis native faced another stern test in the second when Trent Giambrone walked, Roberto Caro singled and Connor Myers reached on a fielding error by second baseman Luis La O with nobody out. Once again, Hernandez muscled through the jam unscathed.
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He put his early struggles behind him with a 1-2-3 third and continued to roll in the fourth by striking out the side on just 11 pitches.
After Down East put up three runs in the fourth, Hernandez (1-0) pitched around Machin's double in the fifth to post another zero. The sixth provided another hurdle for the 6-foot-2, 175-pounder, after Alamo doubled and Carlos Garay walked to begin the frame, prompting a visit from Mintz. Hernandez responded with a strikeout before being relieved by Jeffrey Springs.
"That second inning was the whole game," Mintz added. "After he got through that inning without letting them score, he kind of locked in and was in control of the game."
Myrtle Beach scored on a one-out double by Roberto Caro in the sixth, but from there, Springs and C.D. Pelham, who hurled two perfect innings, shut down the Pelicans to put the Wood Ducks one win away from the circuit's Championship Series.
"Springs got us five huge outs and limited the damage to that one run, and then Pelham came in and was outstanding," Mintz noted. "We sent Pelham out in the eighth, and he was so good, that we decided to send him back out for the ninth."
Game 2 of the best-of-3 set is scheduled for 5:05 pm ET Friday. Should Myrtle Beach win, the teams will settle the series in the nightcap of a doubleheader.
In other Carolina playoff action:
Keys 10, Hillcats 9
Frederick scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth to take Game 1 of the other semifinal series. Jake Ring went 2-for-5 with a double and four RBIs for the Keys, who overcame Mitch Longo's four-RBI night for Lynchburg. Box score