Sunday’s series finale with the Arizona Diamondbacks in Chase Field was stuck at 0-0 until the top of the eighth inning, when pinch hitter Yadiel Hernández stepped in against righty Stefan Crighton and hit a 1-0 sinker outside out the other way for a line drive homer to left field that cleared the low fence and landed in the bullpen beyond the outfield wall.
Hernández hit in the pitcher’s spot, though starter Erick Fedde, who tossed seven scoreless to that point, lobbied to stay in the game.
“Obviously he knows we had to pinch hit for him, but he did really well, and he understood,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters after Washington’s 3-0 win in the finale of the three-game set.
“[Fedde] came in and he told me that he was a good hitter, and I explained to him that, ‘I think we’ve got a better hitter than you right now, but great job.’”
Hernández’s opposite field power on the pinch hit blast was impressive, but not a surprise to the skipper.
“The matchup was really good for him,” Martinez said, “guy is throwing sinkers, down and away, and I thought if he could stay on the ball he could hit it hard.
“Man, he drove a ball. That was a line drive home run into that bullpen. Like I said, he’s given us good at bats so far this year, so in that situation, it was the right matchup.”
Hernández’s teammate, Victor Robles, said he wasn’t impressed. He meant it in a good way, as in he’d seen the 33-year-year-old outfielder do it before.
“You know, to be honest, he didn’t impress me with the home run at all,” Robles explained, through translator Octavio Martinez.
“I’ve seen it a lot before from him, so it’s expected. If I was to say what impressed me, it was the actual pitch he hit it on.
“I think it was a real tough pitch to hit and he did a great job of making hard contact. I was definitely impressed by that.”
The home run was the first Crichton’s allowed this season, and the first off him by a lefty since 2019.
“In reality, all I was trying to do was make hard contact,” Hernández said, through the team’s translator.
“Obviously I make good enough contact, I knew I could drive it out of the ballpark, and in a game like it was, a 0-0 ballgame, a home run would put us ahead, which would be great.
“But in those kind of situations I’m just trying to make real good solid contact, and thank God that I was able to and put us ahead.”
He said he wasn’t necessarily looking to go the other way, but just reacted to the pitch.
“Every time I go up there to hit, I’m just trying to make real good contact,” he explained.
“And I’m thinking up the middle the whole time. If I’m a little behind I can drive it the other way, or if I’m a little ahead of the pitch I can pull it a little bit.”
Hernández got plenty of at bats and a number or starts while Juan Soto was out on the IL between April 19-May 4th, going 10 for 27 (.370/.438/.481) in 10 games (seven starts), but since Soto returned, he’s settled into a bench role, working to get used to coming in as a pinch hitter.
“It’s a very difficult role. It’s still very difficult. I work a lot with the hitting coach to try to get more and more accustomed to it,” Hernández said on Sunday.
“From the middle of the game on I’m working and preparing for that one at bat I might get that game, which I know is very important, but it’s definitely a very difficult role.”
“He’s been good,” Martinez said. “He’s been really good, and he understands he’s going to get one at bat and he has to make the best of it.”
Hernández was 3 for 11 with a double and a home run in pinch hit appearances heading into Monday night’s game. He’s still learning how to work in the role.
“In reality, just a role I have where being a pinch hitter, it’s a very tough role,” he said.
“I’m very focused on getting as good as I can in that role and getting better at it.
“One guy that I — a teammate that I definitely pull on is Ryan Zimmerman. He does a great job of preparing, and he gives great at bats when he does get his pinch hit at bats, so I’m learning a lot from him and preparing but I’m focused on learning and getting better at that spot.”
Hernández said he’s picked up some things from the 36-year-old veteran, but hasn’t really spoken to Zimmerman yet, though he plans to.
“I haven’t really spoken to him, because I don’t speak English very well. It’s mainly observing just how he goes about preparing for the at bats.
“In the cage, he’s very meticulous, and every swing it’s almost — he’s very precise with every swing in the cage and he’s focused and he takes it into the at bat, and that’s where I’m learning from that and becoming more focused and working harder in the cage.
“I would like to hopefully in the next day or two gets someone to translate for me and kind of talk to him a little bit and kind of pick his brain.”
Hernández’s approach at the plate, his preparation for a new role, and his demeanor in the dugout and clubhouse have all impressed his manager, who said he’s still getting to know the outfielder, who defected from Cuba in 2015, signed with Washington in 2016, and then debuted in the majors in 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign.
What has he learned about Hernández?
“I just think, one, he’s a patient hitter, he will accept his walks, but the fact that he can hit the ball hard at all fields and drive the ball the other way.
“That’s huge for a guy that comes off the bench.
“Even when he starts we feel like every time he’s up there with the bat, he can jolt the ball for us. So, he’s been really good. Even though he’s a little older of a guy, he’s still learning. It’s a learning process, his first year here in the big leagues really, playing this early.
“He’s a joy to be around. The guys loves the game, he pumps his teammates up, so good for him today to come out and give us that 1-0 lead right away.”