After what was likely his best inning of the spring so far for the Orioles, former All-Star right-hander Félix Hernández left Tuesday’s Grapefruit League game against the Tampa Bay Rays with right elbow discomfort, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said.
Manager Brandon Hyde said Hernández would be reevaluated Wednesday, but that it was his decision to pull him from the eventual 7-1, seven-inning loss after the veteran starter was acting differently on the mound than in his first two spring starts.
“It was just his body language,” Hyde said. “Taking a little more time between pitches, kind of the way he came off the mound after the inning. It just looked different. You kind of read pitchers. You get a feeling that something’s not right.”
Hernández, who didn’t pitch in 2020 but is looking to extend a career that’s worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, is in Orioles camp on a minor league contract with the hopes of bolstering his resume by making the team and playing a role in its rotation in 2021.
The former Seattle Mariners star has had a rocky spring to this point. Hernández’s fastball has been in the 84-86 mph range, and while there’s some deception to it, he’s struggled to keep hitters off-balance with his secondary pitches and has had some tough spells in his starts.
In his spring debut, he walked two and had both come around to score in his second inning March 4 against the Detroit Tigers.
Hernández next faced the Pittsburgh Pirates and allowed three earned runs on five hits, including a home run.
Tuesday would have been a good test for Hernández, who was facing a lineup full of everyday players from the Rays. At least early, he showed he was up for the test. He struck out leadoff man Yoshi Tsutsugo swinging and ended the inning getting playoff hero Randy Arozarena swinging at a breaking ball above the strike zone.
But Eric Hanhold began warming up while the Orioles hit in the second inning and took over for Hernández in that inning.
“I thought the velo was the same,” Hyde said. “I thought he was getting outs. He had a good slider. I just thought the body language was different this time. I felt like there was something bothering him, so when we approached him after the inning and he had a little bit of discomfort, I kind of made the decision there to take him out of the game at that point and not risk anything on March 16 at Port Charlotte. I wanted to play it safe and not push it.”
Elias said it was unclear what an extended absence for Hernández would do to the Orioles’ pitching plans. They’ve been staying intentionally fluid in how many starters and long relievers they plan to carry, and that will likely be the case until they have to make a decision for Opening Day on April 1.
John Means remains a given as the presumptive Opening Day starter, but after him, rookies Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin and Bruce Zimmermann are in the mix, plus Jorge López, nonroster right-hander Matt Harvey and veteran left-hander Wade LeBlanc. The team could also be trying to stretch out Thomas Eshelman and Rule 5 draft picks Tyler Wells and Mac Sceroler as well.
“I don’t know that it’s dependent on any one guy,” Elias said. “I think we’re going to see what we’ve got and look at things in the context of the 40-man roster, guys that are on it and guys that aren’t, and who are best length options, whether that’s a six-man rotation even just to start the year or whether we take some of those length options and put them in the bullpen.
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“I don’t know. I think we’re going to break with the best pitchers that we can. We’ve still got a ways to go. We’re still evaluating some guys, frankly, and it’s going to depend on the personnel that gets chosen for this team.”