Yadiel Hernàndez took advantage of an early-season opportunity to play last April to get comfortable at the plate with an extended run of at-bats while Juan Soto was out of the lineup dealing with a shoulder strain.
Hernàndez talked, after a two-home run game on August 1st this past summer, which came during a hot stretch at the plate which saw him go 31 for 98 (.352/.408/.591) with four doubles and five homers in a 32-game, 98-plate appearance run, about that early-season stretch getting him in sync with the bat in his hands.
“I think the key is just the fact that I’m getting more playing time,” Hernàndez told reporters, “more opportunities to see more pitches, get more at bats. The little short span when Juan was hurt, I got to play a little bit more, started getting a little bit more comfortable. The role as a pinch hitter is very difficult. It’s a transition, I had to make the adjustment especially mentally to prepare myself for the games, but lately I’ve played 2 or 4 days in a row consistently, and I feel like’s making me feel more comfortable and more consistent at the plate.”
Soto wasn’t out for long early last year, of course, and though Hernàndez got a nice run as part of the lineup following the club’s trade deadline sell-off in late July (putting up a .287/.342/.449 line in 202 PAs after the All-Star break), he had to find ways to stay sharp while taking advantage of the opportunities he did get.
“I basically keep the same routine,” he explained, when asked how he does try to remain locked in while coming off the bench or playing sparingly, “… the only difference is when I’m playing every day or I’m starting a game, I take less swings, I’m preparing myself for the whole game, but if I’m in a possibility of a pinch hit role later that night, then I’ll take a lot more swings to be ready for that just that one specific at bat. And I will probably fluctuate between those two routines in that sense, but pretty much the same routine.”
In 56 games and 228 PAs as a starter in 2021, Hernàndez, 34, put up a .282/.338/.435 line with six doubles and eight home runs, 18 walks, and 46 Ks, while going 13 for 50 (.260/.309/.360) in 55 PAs as a pinch hitter.
More than anything for Hernàndez, who debuted in the majors as a 32-year-old, after signing with Washington at 28, following a long and successful career as a pro in Cuba, just getting a chance to contribute at the big league level means a lot.
“I’m very excited and happy about that,” he said. “It’s the only team I know, the only team I’ve been with since I left Cuba, and being able to get the opportunity and help out in any way I can to help the team win, I appreciate the opportunity I’ve been given, and all I can do is give it my all out there and do anything possible in any particular situation they want to put me in to help them win, that’s what I’m willing to do and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”
His manager, Davey Martinez, noticed and appreciated Hernàndez’s effort in 2021.
He gets himself in position to hit every pitch, and stays behind the ball really well,” Martinez said at the end of a disappointing campaign this past season. “And that’s really what he does well. He doesn’t try to do too much.
“He tries to drive the ball in the middle of the field, but he gets himself ready early, and like I said, he’s had some really good at bats for us all year.
“Drove some big runs in for us all year, and he’s just a good hitter.
“He’s hit in the minor leagues, throughout his career, and he knows how to put the ball in play.”
In addition to his success at the plate, the veteran outfielder managed to get better on the defensive end as well.
“He’s definitely — he’s definitely improving,” Martinez said this past September, “and he’s working hard at it, and that’s something that we pushed him on all year long — from Spring Training on — is to become a better outfielder and he’s done a lot better.”
With the universal designated hitter reportedly part of the new CBA they continue plugging away at, Hernàndez could serve as the DH in D.C. or play in left field if/when they do play in 2022.
“I think he has potential to either play DH or play left field for us coming up next year and give us good at bats, especially against right-handed pitching,” Martinez said.
“As you know, he plays against right and left[-handed pitchers] and he has good at bats [against both], but if he can continue to do what he’s doing, he could help us win some games here in the future.”
“I’m just trying to take advantage of every opportunity I can get,” Hernàndez said in early August last summer. He’ll likely get plenty of opportunities as a part of the Nationals’ rebooted roster in 2022.