With an opposite field home run in Thursday’s 3-1 win over the New York Mets in Grapefruit League action, Washington Nationals’ outfielder Yadiel Hernández improved to 10 for 21 in 13 games this spring, over which the 33-year-old outfielder had a .476/.522/.762 line.
Of course he’s hitting. That’s never been an issue for the Cuban-born outfielder, who put up a .324/.449/.487 line over six seasons in the Cuban National Series, before defecting, and in 2016 signed with the Nationals for $200K, joining the organization for whom he has put up a .301/.385/.503 line in three minor league seasons.
Hernández struggled in his first, brief taste of major league action last season, going 0 for 7 in a four-game stint last September, before he was sent out briefly, but he returned and went 5 for 19 with three doubles and a walk-off home run in eight games down the stretch.
Hernández is fighting for a spot in the big league outfield in D.C. this spring, but it’s a tough crowd in West Palm Beach, and with the top three set (Kyle Schwarber in left; Victor Robles in center; and Juan Soto in right), and bench roles up for grabs in Spring Training, there’s a difficult decision or two coming for manager Davey Martinez as things wind up over the two weeks remaining before the regular season starts.
“It’s tough,” Martinez said earlier this week of the battle for the final spot(s) on the Opening Day roster, especially for a player like Hernández, who isn’t as versatile an outfielder as the likes of Andrew Stevenson, who’s comfortable in all of the outfield positions defensively.
“The biggest thing is when you look at those pieces,” Martinez explained of the decisions he needs to make for the bench spots. “Especially [in the] outfield, that extra guy needs to play all three outfield positions. He’s got to play center field. And that’s tough for Yadi. So, I love Yadi, and I love the way he swings the bat. I listen to him, he’s a great teammate, he does everything well, and I love having him. For me it’s about keeping him ready, I mean, you never know, things change all the time, but I love the way he swings the bat. That ball he hit today to left-center field, that was a bomb. The wind was blowing out to right field, I mean, he crushed it.”
Hernández is, of course, a veteran, in spite of having only debuted in Major League Baseball last year, and he’s still a work in progress defensively, but his manager said he has noticed a spike of confidence since last spring and even the end of the 2020 regular season.
“I think he feels [like] part of the group,” Martinez said. “Last year, he came in and he got some time in the big leagues. Now he knows that — he’s having a lot of fun, he knows that he can play here. Everywhere he’s been, he’s hit, so nothing really changes, but like I said, he’s fun to be around. He’s a good kid. But I love his energy, he’s always positive.
“I keep telling him, I said, ‘Hey, keep swinging that bat. Whether you’re here in the beginning, middle, end, sooner or later you’ll help us win games up here, I know that.”