WASHINGTON (AP) — Yadiel Hernández, who played for five years at a top level in his native Cuba before signing with Washington in 2016, made his major league debut at age 32 for the Nationals on Thursday night.
The highly experienced rookie entered as a pinch-runner in the ninth inning of the Nationals’ 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. His first big league at-bat will have to wait.
Hernández put up impressive numbers in the minors but was stuck in the Nationals’ system behind younger outfielders like Juan Soto and Victor Robles.
Washington manager Dave Martinez said Hernández reminded him of his former teammate Jim Morris, a relief pitcher who made his major league debut at age 35 and whose story was dramatized in the Dennis Quaid movie “The Rookie.”
“It’s an older guy trying to live out his dream and that’s to play in the major leagues,” Martinez said. “To be the guy to tell him, yeah, ‘Congratulations, you worked really hard, keep doing what you’re doing.’ … To see his face today was awesome.”
Hernández hit 33 homers in the minors last year and was Washington’s minor league player of the year. Martinez said the Nationals chose Hernández over other players at the team’s alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Virginia, because of his power.
“One, it’s a feel-good story. Two, this guy can hit. This guy can hit home runs,” Martinez said. “In a situation when we need a left-handed bat off the bench, he can pop one for us.”
Hernández could see playing time in the outfield because Soto, who recently missed five games with a sore left elbow, is being limited to designated hitter for the time being.
Hernández takes the roster spot of infielder/designated hitter Howie Kendrick, who was placed on the 10-day injured list Wednesday with a strained left hamstring.
Kendrick, who hit the go-ahead homer for the Nationals in Game 7 of last year’s World Series, has been dealing with the hamstring issue for a while. The 37-year-old is hitting .275 with two homers and 14 RBIs in 25 games. He will be a free agent after the season.
“If we can keep Howie, you know, and he can play three or four times a week, five times a week, he does a lot of good things for us,” Martinez said. “He feels like he still has something left in the tank and we believe that, so hopefully we can get him right.”
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