The Washington Times - August 21, 2008, 12:04AM

By JAY LeBLANC
August 21, 2008

Entering this season, Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect David Hernandez had shown an uncanny ability to strike hitters out, registering 369 K’s in 332 pro innings over two-plus pro seasons. However, the 6’ 3”, 215-pound righty’s high K totals didn’t translate to the kind of success on the mound that he or the Orioles hoped for, as he went just 15-21 with a 4.47 ERA over that span.

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Baltimore’s 16th-round pick in 2005 out of Cosumnes River Junior College in California has definitely found his groove in 2008 with the double-A Bowie Baysox. The strikeouts are still there - he leads the Eastern League with an impressive 156 in 129 innings thus far - and they’ve helped him compile an 8-4 record and a stingy 2.58 ERA, which is good for fourth-best in the circuit. Hernandez has pitched especially well of late, posting a 2.22 ERA over his last 10 starts. He and fellow Baysox starters Brad Bergesen - who leads the league with 15 wins - and Chris Tillman - who has gone 8-4 and fanned 131 batters as a 20-year-old - have given Bowie arguably the league’s best and most prospect-laden starting rotation this season, and all three were honored as Eastern League Mid-Season All-Stars.

Hernandez - who was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2003 and the Arizona Diamondbacks the following year before finally signing with the Orioles in 2005 - entered this season ranked by Baseball America as the No. 15 prospect in the Orioles organization and has raised his stock significantly by succeeding with flying colors at the highest level at which he’s pitched thus far. The 23-year-old has put himself in consideration for a September call-up and has certainly forced his way into the team’s future plans. I recently had a chance to speak with Hernandez:

Q: The Orioles were the third team to draft you. Did you come close to signing with either the Rockies or the Diamondbacks?

A: No, not really. The first two times were just draft and follows, basically. Nothing really happened after the season was over.

Q: You’re having your best season so far as a pro. What has made you more effective this year than you had been in previous seasons?

A: Confidence, I think. Building off good starts after good starts really helps out your mental state of mind, and I’m just going from there.

Q: Can you tell the difference in the level of competition as you climb the organizational ladder?

A: Oh yeah, you can definitely tell. The cream always rises to the top, as they say. The batters, they’re older, they’re wiser, and they’ve been around too, so they kind of know what to expect as well, so you’ve got to give them credit.

Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?

A: I like to work off my fastball; it’s basically my go-to pitch when I need a strike. My slider’s my No. 2 pitch, and my changeup has really been coming along as the season’s gone on.

Q: You’re known for your high K totals. Why do you think hitters have such a hard time making contact against you?

A: You know, I don’t know. I’ve heard that the ball just comes out of my hand differently, I guess, and it just rides up into the batter, and it’s just deceiving, I guess.

Q: What are some aspects of your game that you’re trying to improve upon this year?

A: My fastball command. Last year, it got better from the year before, and this year it’s kind of taken a step back. Griff (former big league hurler Mike Griffin) - the pitching coach - and I, we’re working on it on the side.

Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?

A: Not really. I just kind of try to be my own self; just be me, and not try and be somebody else.

Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Orioles?

A: Ah … I don’t worry about that. I kind of just … when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. I just handle what I can take care of.

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at [email protected]

Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals.