KC Royals vs. CWS: September is key for this pitcher

Carlos Hernandez starts for the KC Royals tonight against the White Sox, a team he’s tamed twice this season, and against whom he’ll try to continue his recent emergence as an important member of the Royals’ ever-fluid rotation.

Hernandez began 2020 in the bullpen and didn’t earn a start until July 18 against Baltimore. That start, the fourth of his short big league career (he started three 2020 games) was good. He struck out six in four innings, but the two-run single he surrendered in the third accounted for the first and only runs the Orioles needed to beat Kansas City 5-0. Hernandez suffered the loss.

It’s the only time he’s been beaten this season. Since then, the burly righthander, still officially a rookie and relying on an impressive, eclectic repertoire, is 3-0 with a 3.24 ERA in six starts, and the KC Royals are 5-1 in those games; perhaps his best start of the year was Aug. 22 when he struck out eight and held the Cubs to one run in seven innings. And although Manager Mike Matheny used him as a reliever against Seattle last week, he’s become an important part of a KC rotation sorely in need of consistency.

Is Carlos Hernandez guaranteed a spot in the 2022 KC Royals’ rotation?

All that doesn’t mean, however, that Hernandez is a rotation lock for Kansas City next season. The Royals have Brad Keller, Daniel Lynch, Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Mike Minor, probably Jackson Kowar, and perhaps even Danny Duffy if he and the club get together for a reunion that wouldn’t surprise anyone. If most of those hurlers pitch to their potential in spring training and early in the 2022 campaign, Hernandez could find himself back in the bullpen.

The pen, of course, is where the burly righthander started this season. The KC Royals clearly consider him a starter—57 of his 73 professional appearances have been starts—but he pitched out of the pen exclusively before his July 18 starting assignment against Baltimore. His 4.98 ERA, far too high for a reliever, suggests he’s better suited to start.

September, then, is important for Hernandez. He opens the month 4-1 with a 3.62 ERA (his only win in relief—and his first big league victory—came against Texas Opening Day), but needs to sustain his excellence in the rotation and prove he’s ready to pitch there for an entire major league campaign. And for Hernandez, the White Sox seem to be the right team to begin with.

Although the Sox treated him badly the first time he faced them this season (he gave up two runs on three hits, walked one and threw a wild pitch in 0.2 relief innings April 8), Hernandez beat them both times he’s faced them since. He didn’t allow Chicago a run in six innings July 29 and, in his next start a week later, struck out six and gave up only a run in five frames.

He’s 2-0, 2.38 against the White Sox this year.

Hernandez, though, has his work cut out for him tonight. With a 9.5-game lead over Cleveland entering today’s play, Chicago controls the American League Central. The Sox have won three in a row and six of their last 10. He’ll need to pitch well.

If he does, Hernandez’s key September will be off to a good start.

First pitch for tonight’s game is set for 7:10 p.m. CDT at Kauffman Stadium. Hernandez will face Chicago’s Dallas Keuchel, who’s 8-7, 5.00; two of Keuchel’s losses have come against Kansas City.