Sea Dogs Manager Joe Oliver and pitching coach Paul Abbott were relaxing in Oliver’s office Friday night, finishing reports on Portland’s 1-0 victory and discussing early childhood development in South American society.

To be more specific, they were talking about Darwinzon Hernandez, the top pitching prospect for the Boston Red Sox who grew up playing soccer in a small town in northern Venezuela and didn’t pick up a baseball until he was 15.

“He doesn’t have all that wear and tear from throwing in travel ball 365 days a year,” Oliver said. “These kids now, their parents pick the sport for them at an early age and put all their eggs in one basket. It’s probably a blessing he didn’t throw when he was a young kid.”

Abbott gave a contrarian view.

Was it a blessing, Abbott wondered, or might Hernandez be even better with more repetitions and seasoning?

The definitive answer may not be available for years. What’s clear is Hernandez has an uncanny ability to throw a baseball. Consider that when the Red Sox summoned him to Fenway Park last month to pitch in the second game of a doubleheader, Hernandez had all of 16 innings in Double-A under his belt.


Or consider that at age 22 in his sixth season of professional baseball, Hernandez has allowed only one home run to a left-handed batter, and that came more than two years ago in Class A Greenville.

“His fastball is electric,” Abbott said. “He’s got an overpowering fastball, but he’s also got an overpowering slider with what we call wipe-out depth.”

The usual numbers don’t look all that impressive for Hernandez, who takes a 1-3 record with a 4.65 earned-run average into his next start Monday at Hadlock Field. But opponents are batting only .202 against him. He’s struck out 44 in 31 innings with a team-high 25 walks.

In his appearance with the Red Sox on April 23, Hernandez struck out four Detroit Tigers in 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. Detroit also got four hits and a walk.

“Whether I’m in big league or here in Portland, I work hard,” Hernandez said. “Coming here, I’m working more for my mechanics. I throw more strikes.”

At 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds, Hernandez can be intimidating on the mound. He has a deceptive delivery and an air of what Abbott describes as “I don’t quite know where it’s going.”


Translation: The batter’s box is not a place of comfort, particularly for those who swing from the left side. Chris DeVito, a former Kansas City farmhand who never made it out of Class A and was released from Wilmington last summer, remains the only left-handed hitter with a professional home run off Hernandez.

That includes stints for Hernandez in the prospect-rich Arizona Fall League and in major league spring training with the Red Sox, who nearly added him to their bullpen after he yielded only seven hits and one earned run in 11 innings in Florida. Opponents batted .184.

Sea Dogs catcher Jake Romanski said being on the receiving end of Hernandez is fun.

“His attitude on the mound,” Romanski said, “is that he’s going to come right after you, and he’s better than you. And he is. Darwin’s got electric stuff.”

Hernandez is the son of a soccer player and a school teacher. His home is San Francisco de Asis in a rural part of Venezuela in northernmost South America.

“When I was a little guy, I didn’t like baseball,” he said. “I only played soccer.”


But after one year of baseball, the Red Sox offered $7,500 and he signed a contract four months shy of his 17th birthday.

Had he grown up in the United States, Hernandez might have played two more years in high school and about now been shifting the tassel on his college mortarboard. Instead he pitched two seasons in the Dominican Summer League before climbing the Red Sox minor league ladder from Lowell to Greenville to Salem before arriving in Portland late last summer for five relief appearances.

Oliver, who managed Hernandez in Salem last year, sees a more mature man in Portland.

“He’s understanding how to control his emotions and channel his fire in the right direction,” Oliver said. “Last year it would get channeled outward and be dramatic, and he would lose his focus. Now it seems like he’s able to harness that, to step off the mound and keep it in check.”

Hernandez’s return to Double-A didn’t go well. After his Fenway appearance, he pitched in Hartford and the Yard Goats knocked him out in the first inning. Abbott attributed it to Fenway afterglow.

Although the Red Sox are likely to use Hernandez in the bullpen, Abbott said starting and pitching deeper into games with the Sea Dogs will help the young pitcher improve his mechanics.

“Being able to repeat again and again and again is crucial for when he gets on the big stage,” Abbott said. “That’s the main thing he needs to iron out, and then he’ll be a major asset for them.”


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