Young Rangers right-hander Jonathan Hernandez will be shut down for at least the next four weeks after being diagnosed with a “low-grade” sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, tweets Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The team is not yet anticipating surgery will be necessary, but the shutdown means they’ll be without one of the most promising members of their bullpen for an extended period.
Hernandez, 24, had a shaky 2019 debut but broke out with a 2.90 ERA and 3.67 SIERA in 31 innings last season. The young flamethrower averaged 98.3 mph on his sinker and punched out a quarter of the batters he faced against a tidy 6.4 percent walk rate. He’d been expected to be one of the team’s primary late-inning options, but the fact that he won’t throw at all until after Opening Day means that even in a best-case scenario he could miss a month or more of regular season work. Hernandez will need to build back up and go on a rehab assignment before he reemerges as an option in the Texas bullpen.
Injuries pertaining to the UCL carry the risk of Tommy John surgery, and a even a mild sprain, by definition, means there is some degree of stretching/tearing in the ligament at present. The extent of the damage is apparently mild enough that the team will hope to avoid that last-resort scenario for now.
It’s long appeared likely that there are some spots in the Rangers’ bullpen up for grabs, and an absence for Hernandez only adds to that reality. Jose Leclerc is expected to be back from last year’s teres major strain to handle ninth-inning duties. Left-hander Joely Rodriguez has been slowed by a sprained ankle in camp but is expected back on the mound shortly and, if healthy, should get late-inning work. But the Rangers are lacking in seasoned bullpen arms overall, creating the possibility for young arms to break through and for minor league signees to land spots on the 40-man roster. Veterans such as Ian Kennedy, Nick Vincent, Hunter Wood and Sam Gaviglio are in camp on non-roster deals, as is righty Spencer Patton, who has reinvented himself in Japan over the past four seasons.