The risks of pitching: Line drive to the ribs wasn't the first mound mishap for W.T.'s Hernandez
WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP -- It's the biggest danger in pitching, getting hit by a batted ball, but as any successful pitcher will avow, fear can't be a factor on the mound.
"I think about it all the time," Washington Township senior Steven Hernandez said. "When I was little, it was worse."
The Senators left-hander took a Jackson Senne line drive right in the ribs in Monday's game with South Central. The force of the impact took Hernandez, but his competitive nature prompted him to pop back up long enough to retrieve the ball and throw it to first base, at which time he fell to the ground.
"It hit me pretty good," Hernandez said. "I lost my breath, so I had to lay down for a second. After that, I was good. I had to make the play. I knew if I didn't, (coach Randy) Roberts would be yelling at me."
After Washington's 12-6 win, Hernandez had ice on his left arm as well as his ribs.
"When (my son) Max (Roberts) was about 12, a big kid hit one about head high," Roberts said. "It hit the fence and I was thinking, if that's right back at him... You don't see that stuff as much with the BB Core bats, but still..."
The moment wasn't even the worst that Hernandez has experienced on the pitcher's mound or baseball field. The summer before his eighth grade year, he was pitching in a summer travel ball game at the Ho Chunk Complex in Lynwood, Illinois, when he took a line drive right in the face. A bent bone in what was a broken nose is a physical reminder of a mishap that Hernandez will always carry with him as he pitches.
"As soon as it got hit to me, that was the first thing that came in my head," he said. "It's not as bad now, but I'll probably be thinking about it tonight. This big old boy smoked one right at me. (My nose) is still crooked. He got me good. I was bleeding all over the mound."
The game was the back end of a doubleheader and his parents had left after the opener for a graduation open house.
"I was out for a little bit," Hernandez said. "I came back for the last tournament, but I couldn't throw. I was too scared. In fall ball (here), I wore a mask the whole time. (As a hitter,) you're trying to hit the pitcher's head. I'd throw 'em outside, throw 'em
high, to try not to let them barrel it up, especially the big three-four hitters. Now I'm just like, I'll take the out."
The tournament where Hernandez was hurt subsequently went to a wooden bat format as a result of the accident.
"Drop fives, those were the worst. They had the most pop," he said. "Once you get to a certain age, in high school, they go to a drop three. There's not as much pop. You get the big boys, they can still hit it hard. They're safer, but they've still got some kick in it."
After Brandin Young double and a wild pitch, Hernandez got a called third strike and a comebacker of much less velocity to finish the inning, and his brief, albeit eventful stint of 1 1/3 innings, keeping him in the mix to pitch the rest of the week.
"(Roberts) told me I probably won't pitch another one, so it was already kind of set in stone. Either way, I don't think I was going to throw that inning," he said. "I'm hoping by Wednesday, it's good. Wednesday or Friday, I'm going, he said."
Hernandez also chipped in on the Senators' 15-hit attack that was led by James 'Captain' Kirk, a sophomore on a senior-heavy team who was 3-for-5 with three RBI). "He's got a good future," Roberts said. "He had good at-bats. Most of his hits were with two strikes. He was too anxious, he was always getting himself in two-strike holes, but as he matures, he can sit back and play within himself. It was a good game for him."
Brett Boettcher had two hits, driving in two runs along with Layne Matson, and Ben Fifield singled twice, but Roberts couldn't be distracted from execution points in which Washington failed.
"The boys can enjoy the win, the rest of it's on me," he said. "We played very poorly. I guess it's better to play poorly and win than play poorly and lose. I'm not looking for home runs, diving catches, 90 mile an hour pitchers. Those are all nice to have, but every single day in practice, our big focus is to do the simple things better than everybody. When we don't do those things, I'm not very happy, and I'm not very happy. I've gotten better at it than I was years ago, but the only things I see and remember are the continual mental mistakes we made. I'm embarrassed for them."
Alex Newburn had a three-run home run for South Central, whose three pitchers issued eight walks.
"Just too many freebies. That's where the difference in the game was," Satellites coach Zach Coulter said. "They have a couple kids who can hit the ball pretty well, but they also had some get me over singles. I honestly feel it was more of an 8-8 ball game going into that last inning than the score that it was. There's nothing to hang our head about. They've got 11 seniors on their team and we have four, and only two are playing at a time. That's where we want to strive to be. As we mature as a team, we're going to see a lot of good things happen. Our brighter days are ahead. We're going to see this team again."