April 26, 2006
A weighty presence
KC's hefty Hernandez shapes up, returns tonight
By J. BRADY McCOLLOUGH
The Kansas City Star
Runelvys Hernandez was back, but this was no triumphant homecoming.
Tuesday, Hernandez returned to the Royals clubhouse
for the first time since spring training. He refused to talk
with reporters. If he talked at all, he said, it would be after
his start tonight against the Twins. Then, he disappeared.
A year ago, Hernandez returned from Tommy John surgery on
his right arm. He was brash, talking in the third person, still
the Runelvys who wanted you to believe. He called himself confident,
not cocky, and promised that he was back.
It was easy for Hernandez to return to the clubhouse after
recovering from an injury, something clearly out of his control.
It was much harder to come back on Tuesday, when his teammates
werent as happy to see him, when they still didnt
understand how he spent the first three weeks of the season
in Omaha instead of at the top of the Royals starting
Yes, Hernandez is back again, even though there was no way
to know it other than the nameplate above his locker. The nameplate
had Major League Baseballs new motto inscribed on it: I
live for this.
But after Hernandez failed to make the Royals opening-day
roster because he was out of shape and not ready to throw more
than 50 pitches, teammates were still wondering on Tuesday
whether he does, in fact, live for this.
If that happened to me, Id be absolutely embarrassed, Royals
reliever Mike Wood said. I would never let that happen
In football, linemen lose their jobs because theyre
overweight. Its happened in basketball, too, with big
men such as Oliver Miller and Stanley Roberts. In baseball,
however, its just about unheard of, especially on the
mound, where barrel-chested men like Fernando Valenzuela and
now Bartolo Colon have succeeded.
Royals manager Buddy Bell acknowledged that Hernandez simply
hit the breaking point with his weight. But the Royals say
hes done what they asked of him in Omaha, despite getting
rocked in his three starts.
The Royals can barely recall that magical April of 2003, when
Hernandez was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. And tonight,
when he takes the mound for the first time this season, theyll
hold their breath. Its all they can do.
His eating habits have changed completely, Royals
general manager Allard Baird said. That is what it was
going to take. How you lose weight is less food in your mouth
and more working out. In his case, its a lifestyle change.
Larry Carter only knows the cant-miss pitching prospect,
the 205-pound Runelvys Hernandez. He doesnt know the
What I remember was his competitiveness, said
Carter, who coached Hernandez in 2002. He was very, very,
very confident, and a lot of people called it overconfidence.
But he believed in himself.
Hernandez was 24 years old, and he was tired of waiting. Hed
been in the Royals system since he was 18, and it was
Im going to pitch nine tonight, hed
tell Carter before each start.
The way Carter remembers it, Hernandez practically did. He
was with the Royals by the end of the year and was ordained
the opening-day starter in 2003.
His idol growing up in the Dominican Republic was Pedro Martinez.
He and Pedro both started opening day that year. Hernandez,
basically a rookie, won his first four decisions and had a
1.36 ERA. The Royals were 17-7 at the end of April.
But Hernandezs elbow began to hurt. He went on the disabled
list for a few months and tried to come back, but he wasnt
the same. He finished the season with Tommy John surgery on
his right elbow, which sidelined him for the entire 2004 season.
Last year, he expected to return to his April 2003 form but
finished with an 8-14 record and 5.52 ERA. When he reared back,
he didnt have the 95-96 mph fastball anymore.
Then came the long offseason. Hernandez hasnt talked
publicly about how he gained the weight. His teammates claim
they dont know, either.
Hernandez, who is 6 feet 1, hovered around 250 pounds last
season. He came to spring training weighing around 280. Hernandezs
stamina and command suffered, which mattered much more than
the growing number on the scale.
Im sure if he was getting people out, he wouldnt
get sent down, said Orel Hershiser, a former World Series
MVP with the Dodgers and pitching coach with Texas. If
someones getting people out, they dont care if
they stand on their head and they weigh 500 pounds.
Hershiser has noticed that pitchers are getting bigger, but
he says thats because theyre lifting weights, not
eating more. Hes never heard of a pitcher being sent
to the minors because of his weight.
Hershiser says the extra weight can help a pitcher sometimes,
but it depends on the body type.
You need to be strong enough to take it and put it in
the direction you want to go and stay stable, said Hershiser,
who is now with ESPN as a baseball analyst. Pitching
is standing on one leg for a living. Youre never on two
legs. You post up on your back leg and land on your front leg.
The Royals put Hernandez in touch with a doctor to check his
metabolism and put him on a healthier diet, then marked his
name off the starting rotation. They would have to start the
season without Zack Greinke and Hernandez, two of their top
five starters entering camp.
We were disappointed on both ends, Wood said. One
day, Zacks gone, and Runelvys wasnt in shape. It
was hard. Well see (today). I have no clue.
Wood and fellow reliever Andrew Sisco monitor their weight
daily. Sure, the team trainers check them once a week, but
they dont want to take any risks.
On Tuesday, Hernandezs fellow pitchers were having trouble
understanding how he didnt get himself ready for opening
Nobody in professional sports is born with a thyroid
problem, Sisco said. Controlling your weight is
one of those things, as players, that we can control. You cant
control what umpires say or what the other team does.
Its hard to see a guy we count on kind of let
himself go. Its one of those things thats considerate
to yourself, considerate to your club and your other teammates.
Take care of yourself so you can be there playing every fifth
day as a starter.
Bells entire family has made a living being ready to
play every day. He said he didnt talk to Hernandez on
Tuesday, adding, Weve had enough of those talks.
Hopefully was the word of the day around the Royals clubhouse.
They hope mostly that Hernandez has learned from the experience.
I really hope for him and his family that he never has
to go through what he went through this spring again, Mike
Sweeney said. Im sure it was a shot to his pride,
and hopefully itll fuel a fire in his heart.
Baird, who once referred to Hernandez as lazy, is happy with
Hernandezs work ethic. Baird says Hernandez has dropped
the necessary weight faster than they had originally planned.
Its always easy for the skinny guys to say its
easy to lose weight, Baird said. His wife has been
a big help, but I think it still comes down to him.
Hernandez didnt get a team hug on Tuesday. Hes
never been in the running for most beloved teammate, and after
this spring, patience is wearing thin.
I figured theyd try to run him back here as soon
as they could, Sisco said. They have a lot of time
invested in him. I hope hes ready to help us win. The
last thing we need is another problem to worry about.
Its been three years since Hernandez backed up his talk.
Maybe its a good thing he isnt talking.
To reach J. Brady McCollough, sports reporter for The Star,
call (816) 234-4363 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.