Jonathan Hernandez has plenty of experience on the mounds of the Carolina League. That knowledge of the circuit is paying off for the Rangers' 14th-ranked prospect.
Hernandez twirled five no-hit innings, yielding three walks and striking out six, as Class A Advanced Down East topped Myrtle Beach, 6-4, on Friday night at Grainger Stadium.
Gameday box score
"My fastball and breaking pitchers were outstanding," he said. "Getting ahead with my fastball and using my slider when I got ahead in the count. When I was behind, I used my changeup to get a little balance and get a chance to put them away.
"In the bullpen, every time, I try to get my eliminator pitches ready right away. And it was just using my fastball in and away so I can use it on both sides of the plate."
Down East pitching coach Steve Mintz has been impressed with Hernandez's execution through two outings, noting the hurler is working on using his full repertoire.
"He's been trying to address his command and velocity and trying to pitch to spots," Mintz said. "He controlled the zone [tonight] and he throws harder than he thinks. For him right now, he's been using all of his pitches effectively. Tonight, he really harped on the fastball and changeup on the glove side. And then he was using the fastball and changeup on the other side with his slider. It's all about using combos with him."
Against the Pelicans, the 21-year-old threw 42 of 71 pitches for strikes and retired 11 of the 18 batters he faced on four pitches or fewer. Hernandez said he and Mintz prepared well for Friday's start, with a special attention on mixing locations to each hitter.
"I know I throw the ball mid-90s and I kind of throw the ball from the glove side and I try to make them swing the bat and see what happens," Hernandez added. "Me and my pitching coach, before the game we put a plan and we executed. We talked every time I went out and said, 'Let's do this, let's do this, let's do this.' That helps a lot, having a pitching coach to help me like that. We put a plan together and we executed well tonight."
In the first, Hernandez issued a five-pitch walk to P.J. Higgins before whiffing Vimael Machin and getting Tyler Alamo to pop out to shortstop to end the frame. He worked a clean second before pitching around walks in the third and fourth. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound right-hander punctuated his night with a 1-2-3 fifth, fanning Kevonte Mitchell and Connor Myers before turning things over to the bullpen.
Hernandez didn't realize after the fifth that the no-hitter was intact and said his focus was coming back out for another inning if the coaching staff asked for one.
"It was about keep pounding the zone and get the count in my favor -- 0-1, 0-2," he said. "That's my mindset every time. It's like a kill mindset, kill the hitter right away. I know I walked a guy in the fourth. I had sat down for a couple of minutes because it was a long inning before and I lost my rhythm a little bit. But after that, I was able to make good pitches and get out of the inning."
After a promotion to from Class A Hickory to Down East last June, the right-hander sported a 3.44 ERA and 1.48 WHIP with 64 strikeouts across 65 1/3 frames. In two starts with the Wood Ducks this season, Hernandez (1-1) has allowed one run, three hits and four walks while fanning 13 over nine innings.
The Memphis, Tennessee, native said being familiar with the league's intricacies helps with developing an approach each outing.
"Knowing each field, you've got to come in with a mindset like, 'All right, I need to keep the ball down,'" Hernandez said. "Some of the fields in this league the ball flies a lot. So I keep that in mind and throw the ball down and get ahead in the count."
Added to the Rangers' 40-man roster during the offseason, Hernandez is 25-25 with a 3.47 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 402 1/3 innings across six professional seasons. Mintz said the goal for the Texas farmhand is to "string together these quality starts" with Down East before a promotion to a higher level.
"It was the right thing to see him come back here [to the Carolina League]," Mintz said. "He's working on those combos and not just the velocity. As an organization, we felt this was the best thing for him."
Charles Leblanc finished a triple shy of the cycle and drove in three runs for Down East, while Blaine Prescott homered, doubled and collected a pair of RBIs.