Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Hernandez pleased with Rays debut

ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Roberto Hernandez's debut Thursday was historic, the first time the Rays used a free agent starting pitcher in eight years.

But while Hernandez, 32, was "very, very happy" with how he felt and threw, he only wished it were more successful in a 6-3 loss to the Orioles.

"I have to win next time," he said, smiling.

Hernandez, a former All-Star with the Indians who signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal in the offseason, was as advertised. His sinking fastball resulted in eight ground ball outs. The four runs he allowed over 62/3 innings came off the bat of red-hot 1B Chris Davis, who had a two-run homer and two-run double.

"You take away Davis, and he pitched a shutout," veteran C Jose Molina said. "He was awesome."

Hernandez, who beat out RHP Jeff Niemann for the final rotation spot, snapped a streak of 1,207 consecutive games by the Rays without using a free agent starting pitcher; the last was RHP Hideo Nomo in July 15, 2005. He was also the first pitcher 31 or older to start for the Rays since Mark Hendrickson (32 on June 25, 2006), ending a run of 1,060 games.

Manager Joe Maddon liked what he saw from Hernandez, saying he had "really good stuff." Hernandez said the changeup Davis ripped for a two-run homer in the second was too high, and the 0-and-2 fastball he hit Davis in the right leg with in the fourth was too far inside. But Hernandez thought he made a good pitch, a low-and-away sinker, to Davis in the sixth. Davis sliced it into the left-center gap for the go-ahead double.

"Everybody knows that guy is hot right now," Hernandez said. "You've got to give him credit."

BUNT AND BLAST: LF Matt Joyce was still trying to respond to the around 50 congratulatory messages he received after Wednesday's walkoff homer, which he said might be his first — at any level. Considering Joyce, who grew up in the Brandon area, did it at home was "pretty special to me."

But Joyce said dropping down a bunt single to beat the shift, like he did in the seventh inning Wednesday, won't be a one-time thing. "Anytime they're going to give you a free hit, you've got to take it," he said.

Maddon said Yankees Hall of Fame CF Mickey Mantle used to bunt for a hit on occasion, and he drove that point home to Joyce all spring. So when Joyce did it, Maddon called him "Mickey Joyce." "That's probably one of the best compliments a player can ever receive," Joyce said. "Mick was my dad's favorite player growing up."

LEANING LEFT: LHP Matt Moore has traditionally been a slow starter, posting a 4.52 ERA in April and May in his six-year pro career, but he hopes to begin to put that reputation to rest tonight.

"That's kind of been the entire offseason, I've been focused toward getting ready for this particular moment," Moore said.

MINOR MATTERS: The Triple-A Durham debut of touted OF prospect Wil Myers was delayed when Thursday's game at Norfolk was postponed.

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