Its highly unlikely any team will keep its Opening Day rotation intact throughout the season. But, consider the case of Triple-A Pawtucket. Pitching coach Rich Sauveur had a six-man Opening Day rotation of Alex Wilson, Russ Ohlendorf, Justin Germano, Aaron Cook, Doug Mathis, and Brandon Duckworth. Today, not one of them is a starting pitcher for Pawtucket. Wilson is working in the PawSox bullpen. Ohlendorf, Germano, and Cook are pitching in the major leagues. And Mathis and Duckworth recently left the organization to pitch in Japan.
Ohlendorf is 3-0 with a 5.16 ERA in eight games (four starts) for the Padres. Germano, currently with the Cubs, is a combined 0-1with a 1.04 ERA in two games for Chicago and Boston. Cook is 2-3 with a 3.50 ERA in six starts for the Sox. In five starts since coming off the disabled list on June 24, Cook has a 2.16 ERA.
Meanwhile, the PawSox are among the International League leaders in ERA, at 3.55, saves (32), WHIP (1.33), strikeouts (799), and holds (43).
The PawSox currently have a rotation that includes Tony Pena, Jr., Billy Buckner, Zach Stewart, and newcomers Nelson Figueroa and Chris Hernandez.
The left-handed Hernandez is the first member of the 2010 Sox draft class to be promoted to Triple-A, despite garnering perhaps fewer headlines than other members of that class such as right-hander Anthony Ranaudo, third baseman Kolbrin Vitek, the Sox first pick that year, and outfielder Bryce Brentz.
In 18 starts, spanning 103 23 innings, with Portland, Hernandez was 4-8 with a 3.13 ERA, 60 strikeouts and 36 walks, for a 5.2 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio, and 1.67 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
Chris has been about as consistent the last few years as anybody we have, said Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett. Really aggressive strike thrower with a really good ability to keep the ball off the barrel of the bat. So his consistency and overall performance merited getting an opportunity at Triple-A.
Hernandez was the Sox ninth pick in 2010, out the University of Miami, where he went 10-3 with a 2.64 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 19 games (18 starts). Last season, with High-A Salem, he was 10-7 with a 3.18 ERA in his first full professional season.
We did have a feel that he was pretty advanced, coming from a big program where hed had a lot of success, Crockett said. Then he came in last season and really impressed in spring training. So, certainly were not surprised with the amount of success hes had so far. I think hes done a really nice job maintaining that consistency, both at higher levels as hes progressed as well as through the length of the season.
Hernandez made his first start for Pawtucket Sunday, going six innings, giving up two runs on seven hits and two walks with a home run and four strikeouts. He took a no-decision as the PawSox scored a run in the ninth and six in the 12th for the win.
He doesnt throw hard, but he uses his cutter, really relies on his cutter a lot, Sauveur said. He kept the ball down and when he left it up he got hit. But he did a good job. I was happy.
He knows how to pitch, because he doesnt have the greatest stuff. He kind of reminds me of me. I didnt have good stuff but I knew how to pitch and I was able to do it for 18 years. Hes very good. I was very, very pleased with him.
Hernandez is not going to overwhelm anyone with his velocity. His fastball rarely touches 90. His command will be key, said one scout. But the left-hander can impress with his ability to pitch.
He doesnt throw the ball straight, said the scout. He cuts the ball, and sinks it a little bit. He cuts it almost as hard as his regular fastball so its a good complimentary pitch. But, its always going to be about command. Whether he has great command, the jurys still out. But, hes got pretty good command. The way he pitches, his stuff is very complimentary. He changes speeds.
His command is pretty good. He mixes it up pretty good. But when he gets into a jam, he doesnt really have a go-to pitch. Hes going to try to throw a cutter on your hands but if he misses a little bit in the big leagues, boom.
I think hes a rotation guy, or maybe a swing guy. If hes on a staff with a bunch of guys that throw real hard, hes just so different, it could help them. But I think hes a long man, swing guy, fifth starter.
For now, Hernandez is a starter, Crockett said. As with all minor league pitchers, where his big league future might be will depend on the needs of the big league club.
Hernandez is scheduled to make his next start Friday, in the finale of the Pawtuckets four-game series in Indianapolis.