PORTLAND — It hasn’t taken long for Chris Hernandez to establish himself in professional baseball.
In just his second full season in pro ball, the lefthanded pitcher is not only a regular in the rotation for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, he also has the Eastern League’s 10th-lowest earned run average at 2.88.
“Everything has been falling into place pretty well,” said Hernandez, who was a seventh-round pick of the Red Sox in 2010 after a stellar three-year career at the University of Miami. “All the hard work in between starts and during the offseason is paying off.”
Hernandez is not overpowering. His four-seam fastball will top out at 89 mph.
But he does induce a lot of ground balls thanks to his 83-85 mph cutter.
“He keeps the ball in play. He keeps it down in the strike zone,” said Sea Dogs manager Kevin Boles. “He’s an interesting guy. He throws a lot of strikes and lets his defense work behind him.
“He competes and he’s fearless. He has an aggressive approach to pitching. He goes right after hitters,” added Boles. “He’s very intelligent. He works hard and goes out with a game plan. He throws his cutter in on righties. He knows how to pitch and he attacks the zone.”
Hernandez said his cutter is his bread-and-butter pitch and his high school assistant coach, former minor league pitcher Chuck Lyman, taught him the pitch at Monsignor Pace High School in his native Miami.
“It has been a great pitch for me,” said Hernandez. “I have a natural arm slot for it. It looks like a fastball coming in but, at the end, it moves about 3 inches in a downward angle. It’s like a small slider. I’ve learned to master both sides of the plate with it.”
He has a three-quarter arm delivery and he also throws two-seam and four-seam fastballs, a curve and a change-up.
“The change-up has come a long way,” said Hernandez. “It has been working real well lately.”
He also said his curve is improving.
Hernandez has started 12 games for the Sea Dogs and has a 3-5 record. He has allowed 65 hits in 68⅔ innings but just four homers. He has struck out 40 and walked 24.
He was 10-7 with a 3.18 ERA for Salem in the Class A Carolina League last season. He was a Carolina League All-Star.
He was an All-American and three-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection at the University of Miami and was selected the Freshman Pitcher of the Year after going 11-0 with a 2.72 ERA in his first year at Miami.
“It was definitely nice being able to pitch in front of your family and friends,” said Hernandez, who chosen in the 14th round of the draft by Detroit out of high school in 2007 but elected to attend Miami instead.
“It was a great place to play. The atmosphere was great,” said Hernandez, who was also a member of the 2008 Team USA baseball team.
He pitched in the College World Series in Omaha as a freshman and said “it was something I’ll never forget.”
“I started our first game out there. I came out with the lead but we wound up losing the game to Georgia,” said Hernandez. “The atmosphere out there isn’t like any other. It was definitely a great experience.”
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Hernandez, who is just 23 years old, said hitters in Double-A are “definitely more selective” than the hitters in Single-A ball.
“They wait for you to make a mistake and they usually capitalize on them,” said Hernandez. “So you’ve got to minimize your mistakes. It has been a learning curve for me. You have to throw more strikes early in the count. If you fall behind in the count, you become more predictable.”
Even though he is pleased with his progress, he isn’t satisfied.
“My goal is to pitch in the big leagues,” said Hernandez, who is enjoying life in Portland.
“I love it. The fans are really supportive and and it’s a very nice city,” said Hernandez, who received a $375,000 signing bonus with the Red Sox in 2010.
Sea Dogs earn honors
Another Sea Dog lefty, recently promoted Drake Britton, was named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Week after throwing 10⅓ innings of scoreless three-hit baseball in his first two EL starts.
He struck out seven and walked eight.
He threw five no-hit innings against Bowie and 5⅓ innings of three-hit ball against Richmond.
Dating to his last appearances with Salem of the Carolina League and Portland, he had a string of 20⅓ scoreless innings.
And Sea Dogs right fielder Bryce Brentz was named the league’s Player of the Month for May as he hit .388 with five homers and 11 RBIs. He had 10 multihit games, including two five-hit games to set a franchise record.