David Hernandez's first full season in the bullpen has played out as well as general manager Kevin Towers could have expected when he acquired Hernandez for power bat Mark Reynolds at the winter meetings, the first major trade of Towers' tenure.
Hernandez and J.J. Putz have become perhaps the most productive 1-2 setup/closer punch in the National League as the D-backs take a six-game lead in the NL West entering the final month of the season.
Hernandez has been scored upon in only five of his 35 appearances since the first week of June and has 20 holds to go along with 11 saves. His combination of 31 holds/saves rank is fourth in the NL behind Atlanta's Jonny Venters (28/5), Washington's Tyler Clippard, (32/0) and Chicago's Sean Marshall (29/3). Hernandez's 2.72 ERA skews high because of outings in which he gave up four and five runs in his only two failed save conversions this year.
And when Putz missed almost a month in July because of elbow tendinitis, Hernandez stepped into the closer's role and was perfect, converting all seven save opportunities in seven hitless appearances. He faced 21 batters in that stretch and only two reached base, one on a walk and another on an error.
"We've very comfortable having him close games for us, and more comfortable with him setting up J.J.," D-backs pitching coach Charles Nagy said.
Hernandez's fastball hit 97 mph Wednesday when he held a 4-2 lead in the eighth inning of a victory over Colorado, and he recorded a strikeout on an 84 mph slider.
A former starter converted to the bullpen in Baltimore two months into 2010, Hernandez has found a second life.
"Being able to go in there in late game key situations and be able to succeed, there's not a greater feeling," Hernandez said. "I enjoy it more than starting. Starting, it seems you have to go out there and throw six or seven innings.
"Relieving, it's one inning, two maybe, and throw my best stuff at them. When you get later in the game, hitters aren't going to wait around for pitches. They are going to try to attack, and that suits my game plan."
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