Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 7/13/13
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- There is something different about Roberto Hernandez. All season, the right-hander has remained a bit of a mystery, his effectiveness fluctuating between "passable" and levels below. Recently, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon had pointed to Hernandez's lack of run support -- his average of 3.61 runs9 innings ranked fifth-lowest in the American League after Friday -- but other numbers revealed findings as well: Hernandez's 10 losses tied him with the Toronto Blue Jays' R.A. Dickey for second-most in the AL, and his 4.93 ERA was the highest within Tampa Bay's rotation. So it was fair to say that, at times, the first half of Hernandez's season had become a struggle. To hear his self-evaluation, the secret to his confidence is simple. Keep the ball down, and good things happen. Don't, and the day can be an adventure. "Everybody knows I had a lot of losing, but I feel good," said Hernandez, who improved to 5-10 with a 4.90 ERA following the Rays' 4-3 victory over the Houston Astros on Saturday at Tropicana Field. "I've been pitching well. "I'm happy with the first half." Hernandez should be happy with the way his first half ended. On Saturday, he recorded his fourth consecutive quality start, all while snapping a four-game losing streak spanning five appearances (since June 16 against the Kansas City Royals). Hernandez is a streaky pitcher, someone who has lived within the fringes of the Rays' rotation since a tight competition in spring training with right-hander Jeff Niemann for the final starter spot. Hernandez's year has included some highs (a zero-earned-run, three-hit performance in 8 23 innings in a victory over the Miami Marlins on May 29) and other lows (a four-run, 10-hit performance in 5 13 innings in a loss to the Detroit Tigers on June 6). But Saturday was another moment when Hernandez showed flashes of becoming a capable rotation member. He allowed three runs on four hits in the first inning, but over his remaining five, he held the Astros scoreless on two hits (both singles) and one walk. "When you're always shaking somebody's hand saying, 'Nice job. Stay with it. Everything's good. You look really good,' that's nice," Maddon said. "But to be able to say that with a win attached to your name as a starting pitcher, it means a lot more to these guys." It means more because that is when there is a tangible way to measure a pitcher's progress. Likely, Hernandez will fall short of becoming as trusted as Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, David Price and Alex Cobb (when he returns) in the season's second half. But Tampa Bay needs someone at the back of the rotation to pick off victories on occasion, to keep momentum alive. "When I had trouble in the first inning, I (forgot) about that," Hernandez said of Saturday's start. "The next inning, (I) forgot about it and continued to pitch. I kept my team very close and gave them a chance to win." He will be given more chances in months ahead. Hernandez's victory continues a notable trend: In the Rays' current 12-2 stretch, their starters are 9-2 with a combined 2.09 ERA. On Saturday, Hernandez was part of that building process. Maddon credits Hernandez's rise to more assertion on the mound, a kick that adds bite to the looks he gives batters. Is comfort key? Maddon says so. "It's huge, man," he said. "When you go out there, say you're throwing 92 (mph). I think ... a 92 with conviction is a lot better than a 92 minus conviction. What does that mean? You know when you watch a pitcher pitch, his attitude about throwing that pitch and the commitment to throwing that pitch makes it a better pitch. And the hitter feels it somehow. You see really effective 92, and you see non-effective. "I really believe this stuff. How the pitcher feels when he throws that baseball matters." After a rocky start Saturday, Hernandez delivered with more precision, more belief. The result: Good things happened again. You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.
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