Hernandez could return high savings

Published Nov. 20, 1997|Updated Oct. 2, 2005

A team that isn't likely to win all that many games wouldn't seem to have much of a need for someone whose specialty is closing out victories.

But the Devil Rays say Roberto Hernandez, signed Tuesday night to a contract that could be worth $28-million over five years, should be well worth the investment.

What he does when he has the ball in his hand with the game on the line is one thing. But the Rays say there will be valuable other benefits _ psychological, perceptual and tangible.

"I think when you take a lead into the ninth inning and you have someone out there who can close it, it's important to the team for a lot of reasons," manager Larry Rothschild said.

"One is that when you lose tough games like that repeatedly it has an effect the next day and the next day. For me as a manager, I'm trying to get to the ninth inning with a lead. I can eliminate the ninth inning and play for a lead going into the eighth.

"He also gives us the luxury of knowing we can go to somebody to close it out, which also sets up the rest of the bullpen much better. If I have to mix and match in the ninth inning I have to use two or three pitchers. Now I can do that in the seventh and eighth inning."

In addition, the Rays figure Hernandez, 33, will serve as a mentor to the junior members of the bullpen, young fireballers such as John LeRoy, Mike Duvall, Esteban Yan. And they think his presence will help them attract free-agent starting pitchers, who will find it appealing to know their leads should be safe.

Hernandez, who has 165 saves in the past six seasons, said he is excited about the challenges. All of them.

"I wanted to be a part of something exciting and new," he said from his Puerto Rico home. "I wanted to be where I could make an impact, just like the Marlins, but maybe we could take it a step further and not wait five years. Hopefully it will be three or four years, and I wanted to be part of that."

The money _ four years guaranteed at $22.5-million with a fifth-year option for $5.5-million _ was certainly part of the equation. Hernandez was considering returning to the Giants when the Rays "made an offer I couldn't turn down." The opportunity to play close to home, allowing his wife and two children to make frequent trips to Tampa Bay, also was appealing.

But he truly sounds excited about just being a part of the Rays.

"When I come into games, regardless of what the score is, I have an obligation to go out there and perform and give 100 percent. That's probably why I've done so well in the past," Hernandez said.

"With a young club we're going to have our ups and downs. The way I saw it last year when I played with San Francisco, there were a lot of young players. There were not a lot of big names but guys that knew their roles and gave 100 percent.

"When you have that kind of mix with a few veterans, anything can happen. I don't expect us to go out and say we'll dominate, but if we go out and play our best and play the game like it's supposed to be played and give 100 percent, we're going to win quite a few games."