Found February 23, 2013 on Fox Sports Florida:
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. He refuses to consider the pressure. He insists hes kept it simple: control what he can, work over hitters and wash, rinse, repeat the process then wait. Roberto Hernandez, formerly Fausto Carmona, would rather let his right arm do the talking this spring. Roberto Hernandez, an eighth-year veteran fighting for a spot on the Tampa Bay Rays rotation, would rather avoid distraction. I only try to work hard like Ive been doing, said Hernandez, 32, suspended three weeks last July as a member of the Cleveland Indians because of age and identity fraud. I dont think about that. I never like to put too much pressure on myself. I continue to work. I dont make the decision. The decision is manager Joe Maddons to make, of course, and Hernandezs clock began ticking Saturday. The Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, native started in the Rays 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in their split-squad spring training opener at Charlotte Sports Park brushing aside Starling Marte and Alex Presley and Travis Snider in 12 pitches and he left others to interpret the meaning of his lone inning. An early read: A possible competition between Hernandez and right-hander Jeff Niemann to slide into the back of the rotation could be of the neck-and-nose variety. Both can and will show more in the coming weeks, as the stakes rise and the calendar flips closer to Opening Day. Consequently, this could be a scenario where a rising tide lifts both boats. Hernandez signed a one-year deal in December, worth 3.25 million, to provide depth after he spent seven seasons with the Indians. He was limited to a career-low 14.1 innings last year because of a right ankle injury. Meanwhile, Niemann only threw 38 innings last year because of health issues, including a broken right leg and shoulder problems. They are two men with two different approaches. Between them, though, there are many possible lessons. The biggest thing that weve gotten out of him so far is that he fits right in, Niemann, 29, told FOXSportsFlorida.com about Hernandez. Great guy. Easy to talk to. One of us now. I think I have a pretty good two-seam, and when its going down like that, its good. To see his, its one of those things you just kind of watch and see what hes doing to make the ball do certain things and see if I can apply that to myself. There will be more opportunities to learn. Niemann fared well Saturday, striking out Garrett Jones and Brad Hawpe. He also forced Pedro Alvarez to ground out in the second in his only inning of work. Maddons postgame praise fit in the too-close-to-call category. He said Hernandezs fastball had solid movement and that Niemann showed deception with his split. So how will Hernandezs role come into focus? For now, the picture appears too fuzzy to know. This will be one that you do watch a little more closely, Maddon said of Hernandez and Niemann on Saturday morning before the game. I cant deny that. Things happen during camp, and you have no idea how thats going to shake. Roberto and Jeff, youll have to watch pretty closely. A tale of the tape shows benefits of both. Hernandez owns a 4.64 ERA in 949 innings, and Niemann a 4.08 ERA in 544.1. Hernandezs career record is 53-69 with 153 starts, and Niemanns is 40-26 with 92. Hernandez has struck out 567 batters, and Niemann 409. Hernandez offers a more seasoned arm, one that has pitched at least 210 innings in two campaigns (2007 and 10). Niemann, meanwhile, offers comfort within the Rays culture, since the franchise chose him in the first round fourth overall in the 2004 draft. I felt good today, being down in the count, Hernandez said, looking relaxed in a chair by his stall. I wanted to make good pitches and get out of the inning quick. Mission complete. His was a solid start, and theres something to be said for a fine first impression. Hernandez ended his day by wiping his brow as he approached the dugout, where designated hitter Luke Scott greeted him with a soft fist bump. Pats and hugs from others followed. This was the first exam of many more to come this spring. Pressure? Forget it. Keeping life simple is Hernandez's plan. In the weeks ahead, he will learn where his approach leads. You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.
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