The Orioles announced on Thursday that reliever Darwinzon Hernandez has cleared waivers. He’s been sent outright to Triple-A Norfolk and will stick in the organization without occupying a 40-man roster spot. The O’s have extended him a non-roster invitation to big league Spring Training.
Hernandez, 26, changed organizations for the first time last month after being designated for assignment by the Red Sox. The southpaw had spent his entire career with Boston since signing out of Venezuela a decade ago. The O’s swung a minor trade with their division rivals, bringing in Hernandez for cash considerations. His stay on their 40-man lasted just a couple weeks, as Baltimore DFA him a week ago upon acquiring Cole Irvin from Oakland.
The pair of transactions allow the O’s to stash a hard-throwing lefty reliever as a non-roster player in the upper minors. Hernandez has pitched in each of the last four MLB seasons, flashing tantalizing stuff but too often struggling to throw strikes. He posted a 3.38 ERA through 40 innings as recently as 2021 but was lit up for 17 runs in just 6 2/3 frames last season.
Overall, Hernandez now carries a 5.06 ERA across 85 1/3 MLB innings. He has an excellent 32.3% strikeout rate and has gotten swinging strikes on a quality 12.5% of his overall offerings. His combination of a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s breaking pitch that garnered plus or better grades from prospect evaluators is clearly capable of missing bats at the highest level. Yet no other pitcher with 50+ innings over the past four seasons has walked batters more often than Hernandez, who has dished out free passes at a 17.7% clip.
Assuming he doesn’t reestablish himself on the MLB roster during Spring Training, Hernandez will head to Norfolk to start the year. He owns 5.29 ERA with a 30.8% strikeout percentage but an 18.8% walk rate in parts of three seasons at the top minor league level. He still has one option year remaining, so the O’s could bounce him between Baltimore and Norfolk if he reclaims a 40-man spot at any point. Hernandez would reach minor league free agency at the end of the season if he’s not a part of the 40-man roster.
The Orioles have Keegan Akin and Cionel Pérez as their top left-handed relievers. Nick Vespi is also on the 40-man roster, although his specific timeline is unclear after recent sports hernia surgery. Hard-throwing pitching prospect DL Hall might be best suited for a bullpen role given his own strike-throwing concerns, while Drew Rom and Bruce Zimmermann are candidates for depth roles in either the rotation or long relief.