Hernandez back in a big way
DeJesus, Grudzielanek go deep to support victorious pitcher
KANSAS CITY -- Returning to the starting rotation for the first time since May 28, Runelvys Hernandez didn't give a ringing endorsement for his former home, Triple-A Omaha.
"I don't want to go back," he said after pitching the Royals to an 8-3 victory against the Angels on Friday night. "I want to do my best to stay here and help my team."
It is manager Buddy Bell's hope that Hernandez can be as equally reliable as the man he is replacing. Scott Elarton missed his first start of the season Friday, placed on the disabled list earlier in the week with what has been diagnosed as a partially torn tendon in his right rotator cuff.
Hernandez was recalled before the game. The club hoped to get more from him than his most recent outing in the Majors, when he didn't get out of the first inning at Yankee Stadium.
The Royals and a crowd of 20,988 received quite a bit more.
"He really had great command with just about every pitch he had -- his changeup, his breaking ball, his fastball had some movement," Bell said. "Really the only mistake that he made was to [Maicer] Izturis, the last hitter he faced. But other than that, he was pretty flawless I thought."
That late blemish off the bat of the Angels' third baseman, a two-run home run, didn't mar an otherwise solid outing. Hernandez left to a standing ovation with one out in the eighth inning. Relievers Joe Nelson and Mike MacDougal held Los Angeles scoreless for the rest of the game.
Power figured to rule the day on Friday night. That much was clear merely from a glance at the pitching matchup: a pair of big, hard-throwing right-handers, both of whom wear No. 40.
While muscling up is nothing new for the Angels' Bartolo Colon and Hernandez, it remains a far less common practice for Kansas City leadoff man David DeJesus.
Yet there DeJesus was, smacking a three-run home run to right field in the third inning. He contended that there was nothing to it.
"You get a run when you hit a home run, but it's one of those things that it's my job to get on base anyway," DeJesus said. "Walks, hit by pitches. Any way to get on for the guys behind me, that's what I want to do."
After being jammed by an inside fastball from Colon in his first at-bat, a groundout to first base, DeJesus said that was precisely the pitch he was looking for. The home run got the offense kick-started. The Royals added a run in the fourth and four more in the seventh.
That frame was punctuated by second baseman Mark Grudzielanek's three-run home run, surrendered by Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly.
"We don't have many home runs, period," Bell said. "But to get two in one game is pretty nice. Three [runs] on the board right off the bat."
It was sufficient support for Hernandez, who allowed three runs and five hits in 7 1/3 innings. He walked three and struck out six.
Hernandez built on a strong outing in his most recent start at Omaha on Sunday. In that game, he yielded two runs and four hits in six innings to get the victory.
"The thing about Runelvys that nobody can argue is this guy competes as well as anybody we've got," Bell said. "I think Runelvys pitches the same way regardless of the score."
That assessment sounded awfully familiar to the one used to describe former Kansas City right-hander Mark Gubicza, who was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame before Friday's game.
"If I could sum him up in one sentence," Gubicza's teammate Jeff Montgomery said to the crowd, "he was a warrior."
How's this for an accompanying arcane statistic? Colon started against the Royals in Kansas City on Aug. 7, 2004, the night of broadcaster Denny Matthews' enshrinement into the Hall. Though Colon gave up four runs in six innings in both games, the results were different.
He won two years ago. On Friday, he took the loss.
But that coincidence won't be the lasting impression from the game. That distinction belongs to Hernandez. After beginning the year in Omaha with concerns about his stamina, he struggled to a 1-4 record and 7.44 ERA in seven starts with Kansas City in April and May.
He went back to the Minors following his outing in New York and has apparently improved his command and conditioning.
"It was tough," Hernandez said. "The last time up I was not that confident. But today I'm back and I feel proud of myself for working so hard."
Kevin Druley is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.