Roberto Hernandez hasn't thrown a big-league pitch in more than five years and, at age 48, is admittedly in no shape to toe the rubber.
But the ex-Rays closer received his fair share of text messages and emails in the past week from puzzled friends who had heard Tampa Bay signed the other pitcher named Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona).
"They'd ask me, 'Weren't you retired? I see your name popping up,' " Hernandez said. "I'm like, 'Remember, Fausto is Roberto.' "
The elder Hernandez is very familiar with the former Fausto, 32. They were teammates in Cleveland in 2007 when the younger man burst onto the scene, going 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA and finishing fourth in the AL Cy Young Award voting.
And Hernandez believes the former Indians star can be the Rays' next reclamation success story: "If he even gets half of what he was back then, it'd be a great pickup."
The Rays signed Hernandez last week to a one-year, $3.25 million deal (with $1.85 million in incentives) with the idea he will compete for a spot in the back end of the rotation. Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said Hernandez could end up in the bullpen, too. But having traded workhorse right-hander James Shields and right-hander Wade Davis to the Royals this month, the Rays lost a lot of innings, with left-hander David Price the only returning starter to have thrown 200-plus in a big-league season.
Hernandez, a right-hander, has done it twice.
"He's an inning-eating guy, a 200-inning type of guy that probably ought to be a starter," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "He's a big-time sinkerball guy, and with (3B Evan) Longoria and (SS Yunel) Escobar over there, it's pretty attractive to have that guy in the rotation."
Hernandez comes with risks. He has been inconsistent in a seven-year career and missed most of last season due to a false identity arrest in his native Dominican Republic. He had used the Carmona name and listed an age 3 years younger than his actual one when he signed with the Indians as a teenager.
That didn't scare the Rays. Hernandez isn't the first, and won't be the last, player from the Dominican to use a different age to become a better prospect to sign. Rays RHP Joel Peralta has admitted to doing a similar thing.
Said Hickey: "It's a common practice."
Ross Atkins, Indians vice president of player development, said Hernandez handled the situation "as well as you can ask" and was very remorseful when he returned to the team in July. He made just three starts after a three-week suspension (0-3, 7.04 ERA), but the saga had taken its toll.
"He's been through a very stressful situation, and I think he's been carrying that burden for some time," Atkins said. "But I can tell you … he loves to compete, he loves to pitch, and (he) was very well-received by teammates."
As puzzling as Hernandez's identity was his uneven production. Hernandez flourished in 2007 in a league that didn't know much about him but sustained a hip injury the next year that affected his delivery and sparked struggles. Hernandez was sent down to Class A in 2009 to fix his mechanics, and he bounced back with an All-Star season in 2010 that led him to be Cleveland's 2011 opening day starter.
Though Hernandez has "absolutely no fear" of competition, the extremely quiet, private pitcher doesn't enjoy being front and center, Atkins said. That's why the elder Hernandez believes the younger one could thrive with the Rays. He can be a complementary piece behind Price, right-hander Jeremy Hellickson and left-hander Matt Moore.
"The Rays have been a haven of rejuvenating pitchers," the elder Hernandez said. "They know how to get the best out of people, and best out of him."
RAYS RUMBLINGS: The team is still looking for one or two relievers and a "bat or two," Friedman said. Free agent RHP Kyle Farnsworth and LHP J.P. Howell are still in the mix. … Touted OF prospect Wil Myers, the key chip in the Shields trade, is profiled in this week's Sports Illustrated. … According to betting website bovada.com, the Blue Jays are the early favorite to win the World Series at 15-2 odds. … One DH option, free agent Lance Berkman, told Fox-Sports' Ken Rosenthal he is not sure he will play next year. … This has been a busy month for team president Matt Silverman, who bought a $1.5 million house in St. Petersburg and is getting married before the new year. … An, um, interesting list by David Brown of Yahoo Sports' baseball blog, Big League Stew, ranked the "sexiest" general managers. Friedman finished 18th out of 30.