WASHINGTON – Yadiel Hernandez rounded third base and then crossed home plate, where he was met by joyous teammates who had watched his bumpy introduction to the Major Leagues.
The 32-year-old outfielder from Cuba had just crushed a game-winning, walk-off homer in the last of the eighth inning here Tuesday night, downing the Philadelphia Phillies 8-7 in the nightcap of a doubleheader.
Hernandez, who went hitless in his first seven at-bats in the majors, was called back up to the Nationals after spending most of the summer at the alternate site camp in Fredericksburg, VA.
“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, and very emotional, and very excited,” said Hernandez, via translator Octavio Martinez.
After hitting 33 homers last year at Triple-A Fresno, Hernandez is just the latest player to make his Major League debut in this frustrating season for the defending World Series champions.
Some of the others include right-hander pitcher Kyle Finnegan (July 25 against the Yankees); right-handed pitcher Dakota Bacus (Aug. 9 against the Orioles); lefty reliever Seth Romero (Aug. 14 against the Mets); second baseman Luis García (Aug. 22 against the Orioles); right-hander Wil Crowe (Aug. 28 against the Marlins); lefty Ben Braymer (Aug. 28 against Boston); and Hernandez, (used as a pinch-runner at Nationals Park on Sept. 10 against Atlanta).
According to Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the third season in which seven players have made their MLB debuts for the Nats, tied for the second-most in franchise history, behind only the 2015 Nationals, when had 10 different players debut (A.J. Cole, Abel De Los Santos, Wilmer Difo, Matt Grace, Rafael Martin, Joe Ross, Pedro Severino, Sammy Solis, Trea Turner, and Felipe Vazquez).
Another pitcher, Sterling Sharp, made his MLB debut with the Marlins in August and is now part of the Washington system again. Sharp was drafted by the Nationals in the 22nd round in 2016 out of Division II Drury and was returned to Washington after the Marlins picked him up as a Rule 5 player after the 2019 season.
Finnegan found out in July he was headed to the majors from manager Davey Martinez.
“Davey kind of called me in and just kind of laid it on me,” the reliever told Federal Baseball.
“He told me congratulations, you earned it and you are going to make the team. It was short and sweet and perfect.”
Finnegan, after seven years in the minors, called his parents with the good news then spoke to his wife and daughter back home in suburban Houston.
A few days later, he made his Major League debut and needed just 13 pitches to throw a scoreless inning out of the bullpen against the Yankees.
That was fitting since he has family members on Long Island that are fans of the Yankees.
Perhaps the most significant call-up this year, in the long run, is García, the young infielder who was born in New York but grew up in the Dominican Republic – just as outfielders Juan Soto and Victor Robles did.
Back in March, the Nationals went to Spring Training with veterans such as Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Starlin Castro as second basemen. But the injury to Castro opened the door for García.
García - who turns 21 in May - spent the 2019 season with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators of the Eastern League and was sent to Fredericksburg once the 60-game MLB season began. In a normal, non-virus year, he may have begun this year at Double-A (to be closer to D.C.) or Triple-A Fresno.
Always a plus fielder, Garcia honed his hitting skills at the alternate site in Virginia. Like Soto, he has shown the ability to hit the ball the opposite way as a lefty. He also played short (177 games) and third base (36 games, 12 errors) in the minors.
He had three hits in a game twice in his first eight contests and hit a homer in his third MLB game. He was hitting .297 in his first 118 at-bats with Washington.
“I told him, I said, ‘Hey, don’t let it go to your head,’” Martinez told reporters. “‘Remember who you are, stay in the middle of the field, and ... he came up and he hit a line drive to third base. That tells me a lot about him. He’s going to have a lot of success in this league.”
Pitchers Romero, Bacus, Crowe, and Braymer should figure nicely into the Spring Training plans of the Nationals in 2021.
Romero, 24, soon after his debut, fell and broke his right (non-throwing) hand, according to the team.
He was drafted in the first round in 2017 out of college, despite some off-field issues. He pitched for Single-A Hagerstown in 2018 and didn’t pitch in 2019 due to injury. In three games for the Nationals this year, the hard-throwing lefty had an ERA of 13.50.
“He looks fearless,” Martinez said earlier this season of Romero.
The Nats hope that is the case with the other rookies who made their debuts this year and can aid the team in 2021.