The new Roberto Hernandez resembled some of the vintage Fausto Carmona for the first four innings today. Groundball after groundball, Hernandez relied on the Rays exceptional defense as he allowed only one hit over the first four innings, a streak that saw him retire 10 in a row.
Then the most recent edition of Fausto Carmona showed up, where a spring training game seemingly turned into batting practice, as Hernandez allowed 9 runs, 10 hits, and a walk over his final two frames.
It was only two seasons ago that Hernandez was an All-Star, and four seasons removed from a legitimate Cy Young candidate. But despite this, he's never been an overpowering pitcher, striking out only 5.4 batters every nine innings throughout his career. Over 27 innings this spring, Hernandez has only struck out 14 batters, a very troubling sign, no matter how good the Rays fielders are behind him.
A good start today by Hernandez would have given him a major leg up for the final starter spot in the rotation. But after struggling through the final two innings, Jeff Niemann is right back in the thick of things.
Niemann has struggled with injuries the last couple of seasons, but is a very serviceable #5 starter. With a much better strikeout rate (6.8 K's/9 over his career), and lower walk rate than Hernandez, Niemann may have more overpowering stuff than Hernandez, but has struggled throughout his career with the longball, allowing 1.1 HR/9.
My prediction: Niemann has been more consistent throughout his career than Hernandez, and has faced the gauntlet of the AL East, unlike Hernandez, who has spend his career playing with the Indians in the relatively easier AL Central. While he hasn't been incredibly sharp, he has shown good control, and is a more consistent pitcher than Hernandez. While I think Jim Hickey can certainly bring out the best in a talent like Hernandez, it may be best for his confidence to start in a long-releiver/spot starter role, a la Wade Davis, before possibly transitioning to the rotation should an injury arise or Niemann struggles.