Orlando Hernandez dazzles against Thunder
TRENTON — Yes, Orlando Hernandez is 41 years old. Or 45. Or closer to 50. It all depends on which publication you believe.
What isn’t in question, however, is that he still possesses much of the same nastiness he first displayed 12 years ago when he debuted with the Yankees.
The trademark high leg kick is gone, but the dizzying arsenal of pitches and speeds and arm angles still remains, and the Thunder bore witness to his magic last Friday, when the Harrisburg Senators, the Double-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, paid Waterfront Park a visit.
Hernandez faced the meat of the Thunder order in the eighth inning: Dan Brewer, Austin Romine, Corban Joseph and Marcos Vechionacci.
The results? Brewer flew out weakly to center, Romine fanned at a nasty hook, Joseph slapped a single between short and third, and Vechionacci finished the inning with a weak roller to second.
The highlight of his appearance to anyone who was there was the slow-as-syrup eephus pitch he used to start the at-bat against Joseph.
Competing radar guns measured the pitch at somewhere between 46 and 55 miles per hour, an eternity compared the repertoire of Harrisburg’s previous pitcher, Chuck James, whose average change-up average 78 miles per in 2008, his last season in the major leagues.
For Tony Franklin, whose professional career started four decades ago, Friday was the first time he’d seen the eephus, or anything close to it, in game action.
“That’s the first time I’ve seen it when I’ve been involved in a game,” he said. “I’d never seen anybody do it in a game that I’ve participated in. As much I’ve seen it on television, it took me by surprise. It was quite a pitch.”
In 9 1/3 innings this season in the minors, Hernandez has allowed just two runs (one earned) and has fanned a baker’s dozen.
He won four World Series rings over nine major league seasons but hasn’t thrown a pitch in the show for three seasons.
So, after such an extended hiatus, what could possibly push El Duque out of retirement?
“I like baseball,” Hernandez said after Friday’s outing. “What is my reason for staying here? It’s to play baseball. I don’t care if it’s a bus or it’s a plane or whatever. I’m happy with my teammates and am enjoying the time.”
Even though they’re just four wins away from matching their total for all of 2009, the Nationals are still parked firmly in the National League East’s cellar.
With that in mind, there’s probably a good shot Washington calls up Hernandez once rosters expand on Sept. 1.
His addition would immediately give the Nats another drawing card to pair with wunderkind Stephen Strasburg. It also would put him on the same staff as his half-brother, starter Livan Hernandez, who, at 35, isn’t exactly a spring chicken.
Orlando is unsure of a return to the majors this season, but he’s sure as hell going to do everything he can to force Washington’s hand.
If the call doesn’t come, though, he’ll still have been happy for the opportunity.
“I’ll try. I’ll try to come back to major league baseball. It’s my goal, but right now it’s just about helping my teammates,” Hernandez said.