Royals remain confident in Hernández

By Anne Rogers –

KANSAS CITY — The pace of play that Carlos Hernández began Thursday afternoon’s game with was a strategy he said was intentional and deliberate as he works through the issues that have begun his season. But it might have led to even more struggles as the Royals’ right-hander labored through another loss.

Hernández allowed three runs and walked five in three-plus innings in the Royals’ 7-4 loss to the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium, dropping the five-game, four-day series as Chicago climbed back to score six unanswered runs against Kansas City’s taxed bullpen.

“Really could have gone different,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Had a couple there for the taking, how many opportunities we had. Today, we needed a solid start. I know Carlos was putting that on his shoulders and wanted to do that. Felt like it was one of those series that could have ended differently.”

Hernández walked White Sox leadoff hitter Tim Anderson to begin Thursday’s game, and from there the rhythm slowed. Hernández typically works with a quick tempo, but he took his time in between pitches as he fought through adrenaline and mechanics that were leading to the lack of command.

Seventeen pitches and nearly 20 minutes later, the 25-year-old got out of the inning unscathed.

“Different strategy,” Hernández said through interpreter Luis Perez. “Trying to locate the pitches better. I’ll keep working on it.

“Baseball is a very mental game. You’ve got to keep at it, and one day hope that everything falls into place and you have good starts.”

Hernández struggled with a feel for his fastball, and the velocity was all over the place. It registered as low as 90.2 mph and as high as 98 mph — the latter of which is much more typical for the big righty with big stuff. While that could spark outside concern from an injury standpoint, the Royals believe it has more to do with confidence.

“He got into a couple 3-2 counts, he’s got 98 mph in that arm, and he tries to pick a finesse pitch, make it perfect, and next thing you know, it’s a free base,” Matheny said. “We always talk about trusting your stuff. There’s no reason not to trust his stuff. But he hasn’t had the recent success to allow him to have the confidence like we have in him.”

Hernández, 25, is at his best when he’s attacking the zone and throwing all four of his pitches for strikes. That’s what allowed him to be so successful at the end of 2021, when he posted a 3.23 ERA in 12 appearances (11 starts). He was electric, and that earned him a spot in the rotation to begin 2022. But his stuff hasn’t been the same this season, and he’s struggling with control more than anything.

In 29 2/3 innings, he’s walked 20 batters for a 6.07 walk-per-nine ratio, up from his 4.31 rate in 24 appearances last season.

“He ended the season last year as our best starter. Then all of a sudden, you’re not able to repeat,” Matheny said. “You start searching, ‘What am I able to do?’ You go through 100 different things in your head. We’ve talked about it many times, young players just having really found who they need to be when they get on that rubber and how they think about their pace, their thought processes, their intensity level, all those things are trial and error. He’s still figuring it out.”

As much as those lessons are to be expected with Hernández’s young age, it still has led to losses this year. On Thursday, the Royals jumped out to a fast start with three RBIs from Hunter Dozier and one from Nicky Lopez, but the White Sox clawed back in the fourth when Hernández allowed four consecutive singles and exited with a one-run lead.

“He has some really good stuff. We saw that last year,” Dozier said. “Everyone goes through those slumps. I feel like this is a little growing pain for him. He’s young, but he’s going to be just fine. He’s got to keep his head up and keep going and keep working.”

The White Sox tied the game in the sixth off Ronald Bolaños and took the lead off Gabe Speier in the seventh before adding on in the eighth. Hernández’s short start didn’t help the overworked bullpen as the Royals continue their 19-game stretch in 17 days. A number of high-leverage relievers were unavailable Thursday.

“We were really short in the ‘pen,” Matheny said. “We were going to try and scrap our way through it, hopefully the offense kept coming and be resilient. Had to have a couple other guys come through, too, and unfortunately, they got the big hit when they needed it.”