The Washington Nationals’ search for a consistent hitter has turned up an unexpected surprise, Yadiel Hernández, who has taken full advantage of his opportunity filling in in right field while Juan Soto is working back from a shoulder injury.
The 33-year-old rookie made his strongest case yet to remain on the roster when Juan Soto returns to play right field, with a 3-for-4 night at the plate and a stolen base in the Nationals’ 2-1, 10-inning victory over the Miami Marlins.
“Here’s a guy, one he’s swinging the bat well, and he’s taking his walks so far. He’s swinging a hot bat,” manager Davey Martinez said earlier this week.
Hernández is swinging a .400/.448/.560 bat in 23 games. Since he started getting regular playing time in right field on April 24, he’s not only hit in four straight games, but he has multiple hits in four straight games. He has nine hits in his last 15 at bats.
“If you look at his career, and how he’s hit, this guy hits the baseball. Whether it’s right-handed, left-handed, he hits the ball, and hits the ball well, and hits the ball hard,” said Martinez.
Hernández defected from the Cuban national team during a U.S. visit in 2015, and in 2016, the Nationals signed him, with a $200,000 bonus.
He worked his way up through the Nationals’ farm system, and with Class AAA Fresno in 2019, he hit .323/.406/.604, and making the AAA All-Star Game.
This year, he wound up on the rescheduled Opening Day roster because the team had so many players ineligible after they had been exposed to or contracted COVID.
But since Juan Soto turned up with a surprise shoulder injury on April 20, Martinez has consistently put Hernández in the No. 2 or 3 spot in the order.
“It’s kind of hard to come off the bench and produce just one at bat here and there, but the more I play the more comfortable I feel and hopefully the results will be there,” Hernández told reporters earlier this week.
He’s stroked hits in every game since, and on Friday against the Marlins, he was locked in.
In both the first and seventh innings, Hernández singled to right, and both hits advanced Josh Harrison from first to third base, but the runners were stranded each time.
In the ninth inning, against Miami’s Dylan Floro, he again slapped a hit to right field and then put himself in scoring position as the potential winning run when he stole second base with Starlin Castro at the plate.
Again, he was stranded on base, but the Nats would win in the 10th, on Kyle Schwarber’s walk-off, two-run homer.
Hernández remains a rookie, although his first exposure to the big-league club came in a dozen games at the end of the shortened 2020 season.
He hopes he can build on what he started then.
“It’s like last year,” he told reporters. “I worked hard to get to this level. The main thing is continuing to work, you know, it’s one of those things that I focused a lot in the offseason, improve on my defense, improve on whatever the team needs me to do to obviously help them win up here, whether it’s come off the bench and play sparingly, whatever it is, I worked harder at it and increased my focus to help stay up here and help the team win at all means possible.”