Jonathan Hernandez was far from his best in April.
But with slight mechanical tweaks, the No. 18 Rangers prospect is leaving those struggles behind with a strong May.
Hernandez allowed one hit and two walks while striking out six in seven scoreless innings as Class A Hickory beat Greensboro, 3-2, in 10 innings at L.P. Frans Stadium.
"My fastball command was really good on both sides of the plate," he said. "And then It helped me out with my breaking pitches, all three of them. Like when I got into a 0-2 count, 1-2 count, I eliminated hitters. My slider was really good -- I was using it for righties and lefties. I got ahead in the count with my fastball and my changeup. Then I was using my curveball -- backdoor -- for the lefties."
Gameday box score
After four starts, the right-hander was 0-3 with a 4.60 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP. That's when Hernandez sat down with Hickory pitching coach Jose Jaimes every day to find out what was going awry with his delivery.
"The problem is sometimes I pull off my front side," the 20-year-old said. "And now we're working on my side to be up and down and give the pitches a good angle. We talked about plan and executing. Now I'm getting ahead with my fastballs and working my fastball in and out. I'm locating every pitch down in the zone for soft contact to see what happens."
The results of those meetings have paid off with Hernandez sporting a 1.41 ERA and a 0.885 WHIP in three starts this month.
The 6-foot-2 hurler recorded the first two outs on eight pitches. Tenth-ranked Marlins prospect James Nelson followed with a single, but the 20-year-old got Colby Lusignan to ground out to end the frame.
Hernandez got into quick trouble in the second with a five-pitch walk to Boo Vazquez. But Walker Olis hit into a double play, starting a stretch in which he set down 13 consecutive Grasshoppers.
"I was thinking about throwing my two-seamer in the middle of the plate and letting it run and just seeing what would happen," he said of inducing the double play. "I always have a lot of ground balls with my sinker and my changeup. First I saw that hitter froze on that fastball first, then I threw the sinker and he gave me a ground ball."
Hernandez used his entire repertoire effectively, throwing 57 of his 85 pitches for strikes. He punctuated the night with a perfect seventh, striking out Nelson and Lusignan while getting Vazquez to fly out in a nine-pitch frame.
"I was making really good pitches by getting ahead in the count early and my breaking pitches gave me a good option to eliminate hitters early on like three or four pitches," the Memphis, Tennessee native said. "When I eliminate those hitters, I was just thinking about getting ahead in the count and using my breaking pitches to get quick innings."
Hernandez is making his second go-around in the South Atlantic League after going 10-9 with a 4.56 ERA in 24 appearances (22 starts) in 2016. Unsatisfied with the results, he worked with his father, former big league pitcher Fernando Hernandez, after the season to find more consistency.
"Last year, I was a young man here, and the first time in this league, I was throwing a lot of fastballs," he said. "I didn't have that secondary pitch to help me out to eliminate hitters. Now I have a better mind, better pitches. I worked a lot in my offseason for that. … Every time in the offseason I work with my dad. Bullpen or whatever, he helps me out every time no matter what. He's always there for me.
"We always watch my videos every time I send them to him. He watches it and he tells me things about what I'm doing. We're looking to make that good adjustment to make me better. My dad is a good influence on my career. He calls me and gives me advice before every game -- that helps me get focused."
After Jacob Lemoine allowed two runs in the eighth, C.D. Pelham (2-0) picked up the win with 1 1/3 hitless innings of relief, walking one and fanning one. No. 28 Rangers prospect Jose Almonte ended the game with a walk-off homer over the left-field wall in the 10th.
Greensboro starter Michael King allowed two runs -- one earned -- on six hits while striking out six. Alejandro Mateo (1-3) took the loss after giving up the homer to Almonte.