ST. PETERSBURG — There's a good chance veteran right-hander Roberto Hernandez will soon be the odd man out, sent to the bullpen if the Rays go to a four-man rotation.
Hernandez hasn't thought much about that, believing it is out of his control.
"Whatever they have to do, they do," he said.
But on Tuesday night, Hernandez pitched like he wanted to stay a starter, delivering a complete game in a 5-2 win over the Diamondbacks in front of 17,402 at Tropicana Field.
"That was, by far, the sharpest he's been," manager Joe Maddon said. "Everything was working."
For Hernandez (6-11), it was his eighth career complete game but first since Sept. 10, 2010, with the Indians, when he went by Fausto Carmona. He was one out away from a shutout but gave up a two-run homer to Eric Chavez.
"I feel very, very happy," Hernandez said.
Catcher Jose Molina said Hernandez has thrown better, but this one was "really, really special" because of the result. Hernandez had been the hard-luck starter in a hot rotation. But he fit right in Tuesday, scattering five hits and striking out six in giving Tampa Bay its seventh complete game since June 29.
The Rays' 2.36 ERA this month is the lowest in the AL for July since the 1933 Red Sox (2.29).
Molina, a 14-year veteran, said he can't remember ever seeing such a spectacular run by starters.
"It's fun to catch those guys," Molina said. "They've been on a roll. Hopefully, they continue all the way to October."
Though Maddon wrote "Be Present" on the top of his lineup card, it has been hard for the Rays (64-43) not to relish this remarkable run, having won 23 of 27 to take over first place in the AL East.
"Right now," rookie outfielder Wil Myers said, "it's just a lot of fun here."
The Rays had arrived home early Tuesday morning following an emotional 8-2 road trip through Toronto and New York and two trips to Boston. They were greeted by thunderstorms, which resulted in the Trop lights flickering, and eventually going out, in the second inning due a lightning strike nearby, delaying the game 20 minutes.
But that didn't bother Hernandez, who has had a tendency to allow the game to speed up on him. The sinkerballer kept the ball down while boasting a great changeup in inducing 15 groundball outs, including a couple of key double plays. "He was never really in trouble," Maddon said.
The Rays haven't given Hernandez a lot of run support this season, scoring a combined 15 with him in the game during his 11 losses. They handed him more than enough this time, with Ben Zobrist racking up three hits and two RBIs and Yunel Escobar knocking in two with a solo homer and sacrifice fly. James Loney also had an RBI double.
While Maddon said Tuesday's performance won't change their plans with their rotation, Hernandez, 32, enjoyed finally taking part in the starting staff's celebratory shoulder bump postgame, sandwiched in the middle.
"It was fun," he said with a smile.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]