Davey Martinez had a talk with 32-year-old rookie Yadiel Hernandez after the Washington Nationals optioned him to their Alternate Training Site last Thursday following an 0 for 7, four-K start to his big league career.
“I talked to him today,” Martinez said. “He’s going to be fine. I told him, ‘It’s your first stint. I know you can hit, I know you can swing the bat, I know you can play.
“‘Don’t worry about it, you’re going to get another opportunity I’m sure,’” Martinez assured the outfielder, who signed with the club in 2017, after playing in Cuba for years, and then defecting in 2015 when the Cuban National team was playing a tournament in the United States.
“‘Just hang in there,”’ Martinez told him. “‘You never know what happens, even in the next few days, so just stay ready,’ and he appreciated it.
“He thanked me for the opportunity. And I told him, ‘This is not the last we’ll see of you, believe me.’”
Hernandez was back up in the majors four days later, and he doubled for his first big league hit in Miami, then traveled back to the nation’s capital with the team, and he got the start in the nightcap of the doubleheader with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Hernandez connected on an RBI double in the fourth, driving Eric Thames in after a leadoff walk with an opposite field line drive off lefty JoJo Romero, then stepped up in the home-half of the eighth, with a runner on second and one out and the Phillies up 7-6, and got all of a 2-1 cutter from Brandon Workman and hit it out to right, into the Nationals’ bullpen for a walk-off winner and his first big league home run.
“I was paying attention to the at bat beforehand, with Thames hitting, and I noticed that it seemed like [Workman] was throwing a cutter,” Hernandez said through translator Octavio Martinez after the 8-7 win.
“So, when I was hitting I was kind of expecting that a little bit, but he threw a straight four-seam fastball, and then he cut one on me, and then he threw another straight fastball, so in my head I was thinking he was probably going to throw the cutter here, and I sat on it and I did get the cutter.”
Workman threw one up and in to Hernandez and he turned it around and sent a no-doubter to right.
“Awesome,” his manager said. “I mean, what can I say? Big home run right there, his first one of his career. It was outstanding. It was a good pick me up, it really was for our club.
“Like I said, I know he can hit, I’ve seen him hit, so it’s good to see him get a couple hits and hit that big home run for us.”
“I was extremely happy,” Hernandez said of his thoughts after he hit the walk-off winner. In reality it never crossed my mind that I was going to end the game that way.
“I’ve obviously thought I was going to hit a home run at some point, because that’s part of my game, to hit home runs, and I felt like I had obviously the ability, I just didn’t foresee it happening in that moment where it ended the game on a walk-off home run like that an very emotional, and very excited.”
His manager was just as excited for him.
“You watch him running around the bases, he was happy as can be. The celebration wasn’t what it typically is, but the boys were jacked up.
“Good for him. He got a chance to play today, he swung the bat well, so hopefully he continues to swing the bat for us.”
Hernandez was asked about the conversation he had with his manager after he learned that he was being sent down last week.
What was going through his mind when his first shot ended after just seven at bats in which he didn’t record a hit?
“A lot of things, a lot of bad things ran through my head at that moment. Frustrated and I felt like more so it was just the fact that I kept reflecting and telling myself the season is about to end, I’m 0 for 7 hitting and I don’t even have a hit in the big leagues. It was one of those things that I kept thinking about. The fact that the season is about to end so there’s a possibility that I don’t get another opportunity and I don’t even have a base hit to show for it, so it was very frustrating, but at the same time I’m very excited and happy that there was another opportunity.”
How did he stay focused and not get down on himself so he could keep working and stay focused in case he did get another shot?
“In that moment, and up until I laid down that night in my bed, I kept telling myself, ‘You know what, there is time. It’s not a lot, but there is time for the season, and we got to stay positive about hopefully I get another opportunity that there’s a few more games left,’ and throughout my career I’ve been blessed in that sense, that I’ve always tried to maintain myself positive when it comes to this sport and my ability to play and I think that’s helped me quite a bit at just maintaining my focus and positivity and I kept telling myself there’s still a few games left and next time you get the opportunity just get up here and do anything you can to help the team win, whatever is asked of you, and that’s all I kept telling myself.”
“I think it means a lot to these players, I really do,” Martinez said of the conversation he and Hernandez had after he learned he was being sent down last week.
“It’s not easy to play up here, it really isn’t. And these guys come up here and they get an opportunity and all of a sudden it doesn’t go the way they want it to go, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not going to be okay. It’s the guys that fight back and come back like he did and all of a sudden he’s getting an opportunity and he hits a big home run for us.
“He came into my office after the game and he thanked me for sticking with him, and I told him I’m not the person that gives up on anybody. So, I know what you can do, just go out there, have fun, awesome home run, come back, and let’s do it again tomorrow.”