KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)—If Runelvys Hernandez keeps pitching like this, the fat jokes will vanish quicker than the weight he dropped to get back to the major leagues.
The right-hander, who was banished to the minors when he reported to spring training overweight and out of shape, allowed only two baserunners in seven sharp innings Wednesday night, leading Kansas City over Minnesota 3-1 in his first start.
Still hefty at around 263 pounds, Hernandez was in command from start to finish in his first win since last July. He struck out one, did not walk a batter and refused to take questions about his weight.
“Everybody knows I can pitch here,” he said. “I don’t take it personal. It was my fault. Now I want to keep doing my job. I showed today I’m better. I want to say thank you to all the people who tried to support me. I’m going to try to be healthy and help my team.’
Fans and talk show hosts had given the 6-foot-1 Hernandez a merciless ribbing, joking about jelly doughnuts and double bacon cheeseburgers and wondering why he wasn’t “hungry for a win.”
“I think when you’re in the public eye you unfortunately have to get that kind of stupidity,” Royals manager Buddy Bell said. “But that’s the way it is. You just live with it and move on.”
Bell admitted, however, that Hernandez was more effective than he had dared hope.
“Seven innings, two hits, no walks—you don’t expect that out of anybody, really, not even a Cy Young winner,” he said. “He looks pretty slim right now, huh?”
The right-hander reported to spring training at 280 pounds, and the team said he’s dropped 17 since. Kansas City decided on March 27 that he should go on the disabled list and report to Triple-A Omaha for a rehabilitation assignment after he allowed nine runs in 12 innings in spring training with five homers and 10 walks.
He was 1-2 with a 10.67 ERA at Triple-A before the Royals brought him back this week.
Hernandez, who turns 28 Thursday, missed the 2004 season after elbow ligament replacement surgery, then was 8-14 with a 5.52 ERA last year—not winning a game after July 22.
“He used his breaking ball,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He had a good changeup, located his fastball. He was ahead of hitters and forcing the issue.”
Scott Baker (1-2) gave up three runs and seven hits in seven innings, striking out six and walking none.
Hernandez’s teammates had been supportive, but not entirely sympathetic after he came to camp.
“It was his own fault,” Stairs said. “He came in overweight and out of shape. He’s worked hard the last seven weeks. But he’s to blame. Maybe it’s a learning experience for him. Maybe he realizes now the big leagues are not easy. You have to work at it to maintain success.”
Kansas City 1B Doug Mientkiewicz made a standout play in the fifth, diving to his right and leaving his feet to stare Torii Hunter’s liner. As the sparse crowd of 9,188 applauded, Hunter grinned and pointed to his former teammate. … The Twins are the first team since the 1951 Boston Red Sox to come from behind in each of their first eight wins. … Royals DH Mike Sweeney was given the night off. … Kansas City designated RHP Joe Nelson for assignment to clear a roster spot for Hernandez.