David Hernandez has been quite sharp over his last several outings. Since his meltdown against the Giants back on May 1st, where he gave up the lead via a three-run bomb in the 8th inning, he’s been really good. In fact since that time, he’s pitched six scoreless innings over six appearances, yielding only four hits and two walks while striking out six. This is more like the David Hernandez we’re used to seeing.
So what’s been behind the turnaround? It appears that he’s altered his pitch selection yet again and we can’t argue with the results. Over his last six outings, he’s using the four-seam fastball more, the two-seamer less and he’s hasn’t thrown a changeup over his last five appearances. Looking at his previous usage patterns, this is a clear shift.
Perhaps what’s stood out more than anything else is David’s efficient use of the curveball. He’s not necessarily using it more often, but he’s using it more effectively. Rather than using the two-seamer to try and set up the changeup, he appears to be using the four-seamer to set up the curveball. This is more similar to his strategy of the past and the results have been very good. Hernandez throws his power curve from the same arm-slot as his fastball, making it difficult for hitters to pick up until it dives out of the zone or simply become unhittable.
In his last six appearances, David has thrown the curve 33 times with 25 going for strikes (76%) and 8 for balls (24%). He’s allowed two singles while recording seven outs on the pitch. Better yet, he’s recorded five strikeouts via the curveball over that short span. It’s back to being an out pitch for him and that should make him much, much more lethal on opposing hitters.
Case in point: on the 14th, against the Braves, he struck out Brian McCann by alternating between his fastball and curveball, throwing all three curves for strikes and getting McCann to chase a curve for strike three. The next batter was Justin Upton, who the had gone 4-5 the day before, and Hernandez threw him three curveballs in a row, all three for strikes, and froze Upton with a curve on the outside corner for strike three to end the 8thand protect Patrick Corbin’s stellar performance.
Hernandez appears to have ironed out his approach and is executing his pitches. If it seems like we’ve been seeing the David Hernandez of old lately, it’s because he pitching much more like he has in the past. He’s successfully turning leads over to Heath Bell to finish the job and his stability means a lot for the bullpen. There was nothing but dismay two weeks ago when the ‘pen was getting crushed. It’s far from perfect, but Hernandez’ stability is a good sign for the Diamondbacks moving forward.
*Pitch F/X data accessed 5/16 from mlb.com and fangraphs.com