Talking before last night’s series opener in Flushing, Queens, NY’s Citi Field, about the tough balance going down the stretch this season, between getting a look at all of the Washington Nationals’ young players, and putting the best lineup out on a nightly basis, Davey Martinez mentioned wanting to to get a good look at one of the Nats’ not-quite-young outfielders.
Yadiel Hernández, 33, debuted in the majors as a 32-year-old in 2020’s 60-game campaign, three years after he’d signed as a 29-year-old in 2017, and five years after he defected from Cuba in 2015.
It took him a while to get to the big leagues, after an impressive six-year career playing in the Cuban National Series, where he put up a .324/.449/.487 line in 514 games.
He’s hit everywhere he’s played, and he has continued to do so given regular at bats in the majors.
“Yadi ... I really feel like he deserves — I know he’s not young, but I feel like he deserves a chance to play,” Martinez said.
“He’s swinging the bat well, I’m encouraged about the way he’s been playing the outfield.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with him, about — he has to play both sides of the ball and play it well. And he’s really taken it to heart and is playing really good in left field.”
If he can even play serviceable defense in left field, the Nationals know Hernández can hit.
Playing sporadically in the first half, filling in for Juan Soto for a stretch, when Soto landed on the IL, and coming off the bench for the most part, Hernández posted a .241/.299/.329 line with one double and two home runs in 50 games and 87 plate appearances, but in 18 games and 51 PAs in the second-half, going into last night’s game, he had a .426/.471/.617 line, three doubles, and two home runs.
He had 19 hits in the first half. He had 20 already in the second half heading into last night’s game.
Has his outfield defense improved to the point that he could actually get a shot? Or how, in his manager’s mind, does he fit in the future of the franchise?
“He’s definitely improved in the outfield,” Martinez said before the first of three against the Mets. “And I know from history that everywhere he’s been he’s always hit and he’s hit really well, so I want to give him an opportunity. We don’t know what’s going to happen next year, whether we’re going to have a universal DH where he can be part of that conversation or we decide to go with him in left field next year as well, but I want to give him an opportunity, I think he deserves an opportunity to go out there and play and play every day.
“As you notice, right-hand or left-hand doesn’t seem to bother him at all, he stands up there and gets pretty good hacks at both.”
The left-handed hitting outfielder has a .292/.349/.385 line vs right-handed pitches this year in 106 PAs, and a .367/.406/.600 line against lefties in a small sample size of 39 PAs.
Hernández started the night on Tuesday with a .356 AVG on fastballs this season, a .217 AVG on breaking balls, and .381 AVG on offspeed pitches, so as the league gets a book on him, is the way they’re attacking him changing?
“Yeah, I’ve seen a lot more teams throw him breaking balls in fastball counts,” Martinez said.
“The big thing about him is that — he honestly, he makes pretty good adjustments himself, and he talks a lot, I hear him talking about how they’re trying to pitch him backwards a little bit, and he’s got to stay on the curveball.
“One big thing that he said, when they are throwing him curveballs, he’s just got to make sure that they’re up in the zone.
“He’s chased a lot of balls down, and he wants to get them up.
“I always tell him, ‘Hey, look you’re a good fastball hitter. Don’t miss the fastball. You get a good fastball to hit, hit the fastball.”