Hernandez strong in return vs. Twins
Royals hurler holds Minnesota to two hits in seven innings
KANSAS CITY -- One day before his 28th birthday, Runelvys Hernandez gave himself and his Royals teammates a present that will long be remembered around Kauffman Stadium.
Banished to the Minor Leagues for most of April because of weight and stamina concerns, Hernandez returned to the Major League spotlight with an emphatic flourish. The Minnesota Twins have to be scratching their heads and wondering what all the conditioning hubbub was about after Hernandez silenced them with a two-hitter through seven innings in Kansas City's 3-1 victory Wednesday night.
"He looks pretty slim right now, huh?" Royals manager Buddy Bell said.
Indeed, Hernandez's return couldn't have gone much better. Some skeptics questioned why the Royals would bring up Hernandez from Triple-A Omaha after three starts there resulted in a 10.67 ERA.
But after Shannon Stewart opened the game with a single and advanced on a wild pitch, Hernandez steamrolled through the Twins' lineup until the fifth. Justin Morneau hit a homer for a 1-1 tie, but the Royals countered with Matt Stairs' go-ahead double in the sixth and made a winner of Hernandez, who retired 21 of the 23 hitters he faced.
Hernandez, who had gone to Spring Training projected to be a No. 1 or No. 2 starter, said it wasn't a case of him having to prove himself as a pitcher.
"I'm Runelvys Hernandez," he said. "Everybody knows I can pitch here."
Hernandez did take personal responsibility for not being in the rotation from the start of the season.
"It's my fault," he said. "I wasn't doing my job. ... I was there [at Triple-A] to get better and I showed today I'm better. I'm going to keep doing it."
Hernandez made it a point to thank those who have stood by him, particularly Royals general manager Allard Baird, Bell and his teammates.
"I want to say thank you for supporting me," Hernandez said. "I'm going to keep working and try to be healthy and help my team win games."
Winning his season debut at the Major League level is nothing new for Hernandez, who also accomplished that feat in 2003 and 2005. Now, the trick is to settle in and show consistency over the long haul.
"He was outstanding tonight," Bell said. "He had great command, and really, that was the only thing I was concerned about."
The first major clue that it was going to be Hernandez's night came with Stewart at second and nobody out in the first. Luis Castillo, a master at handling the bat, couldn't advance the runner as Hernandez jammed him and induced a groundout to third.
In retrospect, Bell felt that might have been the biggest out of the game.
Hernandez threw just 82 pitches through seven innings and wanted to start the eighth. But Bell didn't push Hernandez, going with Elmer Dessens in the eighth and Ambiorix Burgos in the ninth to pick up Kansas City's third win in the last four games.
While the night belonged mainly to Hernandez, it was also a big evening for Stairs, who had gone hitless in limited duty this season before his go-ahead double in the sixth, a liner over Torii Hunter's head in center. An RBI single by Emil Brown off Scott Baker pushed the Royals to a 3-1 lead.
Bell has been searching for ways to knock the rust off Stairs by getting him more at-bats, and the opportunity came on Wednesday as regular designated hitter Mike Sweeney got a breather and Stairs assumed that role.
"I felt today I was back to the old me in taking aggressive swings and not worrying about striking out," Stairs said.
The Royals, who suffered a frustrating loss on Tuesday when they left 14 on bases in a 2-1 defeat, made sure there wasn't a negative snowball effect thanks mainly to the Hernandez-Stairs combo. Mark Grudzielanek was also a big factor, with a 3-for-4 night and two runs scored.
It all starts with starting pitching, though, and Hernandez responded to the glare of the spotlight.
"He took the mound with an attitude," Stairs said. "Maybe what he has gone through is a learning experience that shows him the big leagues is not easy. Hopefully, Runelvys realizes that now and goes on to win 20 games for us."
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.