It had been three hours since the game started. Kenta Maeda was the match’s first pitcher and he left it after seven innings pitched, the game was tied at four runs apiece.
Scott Alexander would follow Maeda. He did so with a scoreless eighth inning and the game remained tied. Through regulation, and into extra innings, the game pushed forward on the cold Tuesday evening in The City of Brotherly Love. Six more pitchers would follow Alexander. All six would not win or lose it. It was now the 16th inning.
The Dodgers were in amid a 17 game stretch with no break. It began on July 20th in Milwaukee and would not stop until the team’s first off-day of the second half on August 6th. For the Dodgers, burning bullpen arms was dangerous, especially that early in their breakless run.
But, for the game against the Phillies, the Dodgers had no choice. Every arm in the pen threw, Rich Hill was in the bullpen getting warm from the bottom of the 16th inning. He was supposed to start two days later.
So, Dave Roberts, stuck between a rock and a hard place, chose not to burn his injury-prone starting pitcher but instead to put his most flexible player in Enrique Hernandez on the mound.
Hernandez had never pitched before. It was his first but it was also his dream. The super-utility 27-year-old wanted to play every position on the diamond in 2019 and pitching would leave just one short.
The appearance did not go well.
Hernandez gave up a walk-off home run to one of the game’s best power hitters in Rhys Hoskins however his loss on the scoresheet and his new career ERA of 81.00 were simply numerical reminders of just how valuable Hernandez is to Roberts.
Hernandez can, and will, do anything asked of him and he is one of the best in the game while he does it.
Since 2015 the Dodgers have entrusted Hernandez to be the starter from the bench. If there is a hole in the field Hernandez will be asked to fill it and he does so often. Since ’15, he has played over 100 innings at every position but pitcher and catcher and in 2018 he played at least five games at those positions.
For Hernandez, his value comes in his flexibility but his importance to this Dodger team is often understated and almost always underappreciated. In 2018, Hernandez proved what he can do for Los Angeles.
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Last year Hernandez played at least five games at every position but catcher and pitcher. In doing so, he became just the eighth player since 1871 to accomplish the feat and, among the eight players, he became the first to hit more than 20 home runs (21).
With the bat, Hernandez re-established himself as one of the most valuable bench pieces in baseball. He hammed 21 big-flies and raised his on-base percentage from .308 to .336 between 2018 and 2019.
Hernandez’s vast improvements translated to his OPS+. In 2018 he finished the season with a 92 OPS+, eight percent below league average. In just one year though, the player trusted with handling the defense at seven different spots on the field sky-rocketed his OPS+ mark to 117.
On the year, Hernandez hit the seventh most home runs in baseball for players who had less than 405 at-bats.
While his successes were largely defined with the bat, Hernandez’s value was truly proven with the glove.
Across his defensive body of work, Hernandez only had a DRS below zero at first base. His RZR hovered around average at every position except right field where it was a perfect 1.000.
Hernandez was used to clog holes on off days and in injuries and you would be hard pressed to find a more effective replacement at just about any position than Hernadez was for the Dodgers last year.
But, in 2019, they may lose some of that excellence.
The Dodgers did not add a second baseman for the 2019 campaign and, as it stands right now, the strategy will be to platoon Max Muncy, Chris Taylor and Hernandez to fill the gap. However, in using Hernandez more regularly as a second baseman, the Dodgers lose their ability to use him across the diamond whenever needed.
Now, with two other players capable of manning second base, Hernandez can still shift around the field. The Dodgers are keen on that strategy.
Ever since Andrew Friedman and company took over in LA, a players ability to move around the field was immense. From role players like Hernandez to top prospects like Cody Bellinger, players stuck in a single spot on the field hardly exist for the team on the brink of a World Series trophy.
Hernandez is the head of the operation.
Whether it is with the bat or with a glove, the Dodgers have one of baseball’s best utility men. Enrique Hernandez’s value is through the roof.