BOSTON — The swagger Darwinzon Hernandez brings to the mound is undeniable.
Still just 22 years old, the Venezuelan has a 6-foot-2, 245-pound frame and a blazing fastball. Hernandez’s stuff is electric — and he knows it.
A number of Red Sox relievers don’t have any specific warm-up music when they enter the game. Hernandez always has. When he jogs in from the ‘pen, Fenway Park blasts a song called "El Hacha" by the Spanish group Tambor Urbano.
The refrain blares as Hernandez fires his first pitches, "Aqui estoy como el hacha."
Translation: Here I am like the ax.
Think Andrew Miller coming in to Johnny Cash’s classic "God’s Gonna Cut You Down," but with some South American spice. Though it probably shouldn’t be the case in professional baseball, Alex Cora believes Hernandez has the ability to intimidate hitters.
“He’s a big guy, very aggressive delivery,” Cora said. “He jumps at you, too. Seems like he has an attitude on the mound, although that doesn’t — it’s not supposed to play in a one-on-one battle. But you see him and his delivery and jumping at you, it’s tough... Very uncomfortable (at-bat), very uncomfortable because it seems like he doesn’t know where the ball is going but he knows where the ball is going. It goes from 93 to 97 with the slider.” Hernandez’s transition to the big league bullpen couldn’t have started much better. In his first nine innings, the lefty struck out 18 batters and didn’t allow an earned run. He’s been unfazed by a new role and new stakes at Fenway Park.
“Obviously I didn’t expect it to be going as well as it has,” Hernandez admitted via translator. “It’s been great. Obviously it can change any day. But knowing that I’m up here and contributing, that’s been the biggest thing for me.”
Though Hernandez’s command is still raw — as it is for any 22-year-old pitcher — Cora believes his stuff has so much bite that pinpoint precision isn’t necessary.
“The fastball plays here,” Cora said. “It doesn’t have to be precise. It doesn’t have to be down and away or up and in. He has a margin for error and although he’s been attacking them the right way, he’s painting some pitches, but at the same time when he makes a mistake, that fastball has life and it finishes — and you see the swings. But a lot of foul balls, swings and misses... we’re very pleased. And he’s been able to bounce back, too. The stuff doesn’t go with back-to-back outings or pitching every other day.”
Hernandez has been particularly nasty against fellow left-handers. In 24 plate appearances coming into last night, lefties had two hits and 13 strikeouts.
Though he’s only been in the bullpen for a couple of weeks, Hernandez is already working his way into higher-leverage situations.
“I’m really grateful for all the opportunities that this team has given me, especially Alex,” Hernandez said. “He’s always working with me.... and just having the opportunity to show what I can do. I know being a young guy you may not get those opportunities to be in those high-leverage situations. I know I have to earn their trust. I’ve been building towards that. So it feels good knowing they trust me in those situations.”
Cora saw the young lefty’s potential early on.
Invited to big league camp at spring training, there was one day Hernandez shadowed Chris Sale and David Price. The manager wanted the kid to get a taste of big league life before starting the season in the minors. It resonated.
“It feels good knowing how he feels about my potential here,” Hernandez said. “It’s something that — I’m not really on social media to see what’s being said about me, so the fact that Alex does feel that way about me, it makes me feel good knowing that I’m doing my job.”
A millennial without social media?
“I mean, I check it a little bit,” Hernandez smirked. “But not as much. I try to be a little bit low-key about it.”
Low-key as he may be away from the field, Hernandez has been like the ax when he gets the ball in his hand.
Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for the Eagle-Tribune and CNHI Sports Boston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason