D-backs counting on Hernandez
Playoff veteran will get the ball in crucial Game 3 start
DENVER -- Throughout the postseason, the D-backs have tried to use youth and inexperience to their advantage.
But after falling into an 0-2 deficit in the National League Championship Series, Arizona is ready to alter that formula. It's now time to let experience reign.
When Livan Hernandez takes the mound at Coors Field to start Game 3 for Arizona on Sunday night, he will take with him the experience of October that most of his teammates are just beginning to collect under their belts.
He's pitched the big games. He's played in the most intense of atmospheres. And maybe most importantly, he has succeeded in both.
"Livan is great. There's very few guys in baseball that I'd rather have take the ball for this next game," said left fielder Eric Byrnes. "That's how much I believe in him."
No one has more postseason experience than Hernandez, who has made 10 postseason starts for a combined three different teams. And with a game teetering on the cusp of must-win territory, Hernandez will get the call.
"It's a situation you've got to go through and do your job," said Hernandez, who is 2-0 in three League Championship Series starts. "Now the team is two games down. You come in here and try to win three games and come back home."
Before looking too far ahead, the D-backs need to win one. And that task will lie heavily in Hernandez's ability to continue his season-long success in quelling a potent Rockies offense.
Though Hernandez's regular season numbers were average at best, he dominated in his five starts against the Rockies. The damage he allowed was limited to six runs in 34 total innings, and not once in his five starts did Hernandez allow more than two runs and last fewer than six innings.
Couple his success against Colorado with his 7-2 postseason record, and Arizona is confident that it has the pitcher on the mound that it wants.
"It's always an asset when you have guys who have pitched big games or who have performed under pressure," said first baseman Tony Clark. "He's been there, done that. There's not many other guys you would rather have out there for Game 3."
For Hernandez, the key to success is simple. He's not the overpowering type anymore, instead relying on pitch location and extending both sides of the plate. "Overwhelming" would be the last word used to describe Hernandez's pitches, but a combination of competitiveness and gutsiness allows Hernandez to find a way to get to job done.
Getting the calls on both sides of the plate will prove crucial, as will Hernandez's continued ability to work out of jams.
"He's been a Houdini-type pitcher for the better part of the last four, five seasons," Arizona manager Bob Melvin said, describing Hernandez's tenacity at getting out of trouble. "But he steps up when he needs to and makes a big pitch. He pitches his way out of jams, and he's done that his whole career."
For those in Arizona not familiar with Hernandez's postseason success, they saw it on display when Hernandez pitched his team into the NLCS with a performance against the Cubs that would have made Houdini proud.
Ten baserunners in six innings translated into just one run, adding another item to the postseason credentials Hernandez has already established.
Rally caps: 0-2 deficit not insurmountable
|In postseason history of Major League Baseball, 66 teams have faced an 0-2 deficit in a best-of-seven series, with only 13 of those clubs coming back to win the series.|
|2004 ALCS||Red Sox||Yankees||7|
|1986 WS||Mets||Red Sox||7|
|1985 ALCS||Royals||Blue Jays||7|
Hernandez believes that his improved results at Coors Field this season are partially the result of the humidor that baseballs are put into, which takes away the high-altitude advantage. At 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA at the Colorado ballpark this year, Hernandez's numbers back up that claim.
"Before I remember when I came, no one wanted to pitch in Colorado," said Hernandez, who has a career 7-8 record and 4.37 ERA in Colorado. "But for a starting pitcher [now], it's good when they come here and pitch. It's a big difference [than] before."
Regardless, in what could be his final start in an Arizona uniform, Hernandez is ready. On Saturday, the veteran right-hander said he doesn't necessarily like being the guy in these back-against-the-wall situations.
However, no one else agreed. They know Hernandez's track record and they are confident that he can be the one to begin turning the series in Arizona's favor.
"I think he's a good example of kind of what our team is," Byrnes said. "He goes out there and figures a way to get it done."
And looking up at an 0-2 deficit, that's exactly what the D-backs need.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.