Hernandez gives first base a try
Padres catcher resting knees in Caribbean Series
MAZATLAN, Mexico -- First things first. San Diego catcher Ramon Hernandez does not consider himself a first baseman, although that's exactly where he played the first three games of the Caribbean World Series for Venezuela.
"I am mainly over here to let my knees rest," Hernandez said. "When I arrive to Spring Training, I don't want to be tired or have any kind of problems with my knees because I will be the catcher for the season and I hope the playoffs."
Hernandez knows a thing or two about endurance.
Last season, his first with the Padres, he hit .276 with 18 home runs in 111 games. In 2003 with Oakland, he caught 139 after seasons of 135 games in 2002 and 2001. He set an Oakland record for the most games caught in a season with 142 in 2000. Moreover, he started in 118 of those games.
"My future is behind the plate," Hernandez said. "The big league schedule is very long and that's why I am at first now. I love playing in Venezuela, but I'm not going to catch all the time there. It does not make sense."
It makes sense for him to catch Friday against Mexico in a rematch of Tuesday's game, and that's exactly what he is going to do. Venezuela's starting pitcher is Ricardo Palma, Hernandez's teammate during the Winter League regular season with Occidente Pastora.
"We wanted to let our catcher, who has caught our pitchers all year, catch them again here," said Venezuelan manager Buddy Bailey, who managed Aragua, the Venezuelan champions. "Ramon caught one game in the finals to help him get his bat going. Usually when you put a guy back at his [usual] position, he gets back into the groove more. Put him out of position and he's usually thinking more than usual."
Bailey could have a point.
While catching less than part-time with Pastora, Hernandez went 2-for-12 in the regular season, but hit five home runs during the playoffs while seeing some action behind the plate. He hit .276 with seven RBIs for the Tigers in the finals, again primarily as a first baseman, but was also used behind the plate.
This week, he went 0-for-6 in the first two games of the Caribbean Series before finishing 2-for-4 in Thursday's 6-5 win against Puerto Rico. Venezuela was defeated by Mexico, 4-0, on Tuesday before beating the Dominican Republic, 7-5, on Wednesday.
"The thing is, we are having fun. We come to the park and play and do our best," Hernandez said. "This is the Caribbean Series and we know everybody is watching in our country. It's our job to represent Venezuela and we do that with good games and good effort."
Hernandez's love for his country is rivaled only by his love for baseball. He was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and signed with Oakland in 1994. He made his professional debut in the United States in 1995 and played his first full season at Double-A in 1998. He made his big league debut with Oakland in late June 1999 when Mike McFarlane went on the disabled list.
Hernandez was traded to San Diego along with Terrence Long for Mark Kotsay before the 2004 season. It has taken time for him to adjust. He was the starting catcher for Oakland during their three consecutive playoff appearances prior to the 2004 season.
"This was a weird winter," Hernandez said. "It was hard not to go to the playoffs because I was not used to going home at the end of the season. But we know what we have to do now, what it takes as a team and what we are going to have to do to get there. We learned a lot about what type of team we are and I expect that to help us this year."
Hernandez is determined to do his part for San Diego and Venezuela -- from his usual spot behind home plate, of course.
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.