Davey Martinez talked after announcing that the Washington Nationals called up 32-year-old outfielder Yadiel Hernandez last week, about the first conversation he had with Hernandez a little while after he’d arrived at Nationals Park for his first major league game.
“He sat there — I walked in, I went to get a cup of coffee and I told [Assistant, Major League Video/Technology] Kenny Diaz that when he comes in just bring him to my office because we were waiting for him, and I went and got a cup of coffee and he was sitting there, and I looked at him and he was very quiet, which is not typical, and I said, ‘What’s the matter, you scared?’ And he looked at me and he goes, ‘No.’
“And I said, ‘Well, congratulations. Well done, awesome.’”
It was the next step on a long road for Hernandez, who defected from his native Cuba while the national team was playing a tournament in North Carolina in 2015, was signed by the Nationals in 2016, and worked his way up over three seasons in the organization before he got the call.
“And I said, ‘It’s a testament to how hard you worked, and we’re proud that you’re here and we just want you to go out there and have fun and help us win,’” Martinez said.
“And he says he’s ready to do anything that we asked. He’s a good kid. He really is. Like I said, we’re all proud of him, I know the coaches talked to him already, and I told him it’s awesome that he’s here. Just be ready to play. So he’s excited. His family is with him which is kind of nice. They’ll get to watch him from the hotel room, but they’re here, so that was nice.”
Martinez said he was looking forward to Hernandez getting some firsts out of the way, which makes it easier to get going with the every day nature of the majors.
“To see those guys get their first hit and watch their reaction,” he said, “it’s pretty cool, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
“So hopefully today, Yadi gets the first one out of the way early so we can relax and go play baseball and have fun.”
Hernandez debuted as a pinch runner in his first game in uniform, and got his first start two days later, but going into play on Wednesday, the left-handed hitting slugger, who played in 370 games, and had 1,460 plate appearances in the Nationals’ farm system from 2017-19, putting up a combined .301/.385/.503 line with 61 doubles and 63 homers, was 0 for 4 with four Ks.
Martinez inserted Hernandez in the lineup as the No. 2 hitter in the second game of the two-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field to try to get him the benefit of some good pitches to hit.
“I want to get him up there. He’s a good fastball hitter. Maybe get him some pitches to hit in the zone,” Martinez explained.
“This guy, he’s hit everywhere he’s been,” the manager added.
“So I just wanted to see if could get him some pitches to hit and see if we could score early.
“This guy’s got pop. He hits 30 home runs every year, so I want to see if I can get him some fastballs.”
Asked if he thought there might be some nerves at work early in Hernandez’s big league stint, Martinez said, “I think he’s got some of the bugs.”
“Once he gets that first one out of the way, he’ll loosen up, but like I said, he’s a good hitter, you know he’s very aggressive up at the plate.
“Talked to him today about just swinging at strikes, getting strikes, his contact rate is usually pretty good, so just getting him relaxed a little bit and like I said trying to get the ball in the strike zone for him.”
Hernandez made contact on Wednesday, but grounded out in each of his three at bats on the day, before Martinez hit for him with Jake Noll in the eighth inning of what ended up a win in extra innings.
An 0 for 7 stretch at any other point in the season would, of course, not be notable, but will the pressure build if Hernandez doesn’t get his first big league hit out of the way sooner than later?