Indians working with Hernandez from afar
Pitcher formerly known as Carmona remains in Dominican
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians are doing the best they can to simulate a Spring Training setting for pitcher Roberto Hernandez while he remains sequestered in the Dominican Republic. That much has been acknowledged by the ballclub.
The rest of the details surrounding his situation remain sketchy at this point. Hernandez -- formerly known as Fausto Carmona -- continues to deal with ongoing visa problems, and a report surfaced Wednesday indicating that Cleveland has restructured his contract.
"It's a very complicated and sensitive process," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "So I don't think it's constructive for us to elaborate."
According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, the Indians have renegotiated the terms and length of Hernandez's original deal, which called for him to earn $7 million in 2012 with club options for 2013 ($9 million) and 2014 ($12 million). Cleveland has reportedly eliminated one of the club options and will pay Hernandez much less in 2012.
Of course, Hernandez will not see any of his salary for the upcoming season until he is activated from Major League Baseball's restricted list. Until that time comes, the right-hander does not count against Cleveland's 40-man roster and he is ineligible to receive pay once the regular season begins. Players do not receive salary in Spring Training.
Antonetti declined to discuss when Hernandez might be able to rejoin the Indians. The pitcher was arrested on Jan. 19 outside the United States consulate in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on charges of using a false identity. He was there to renew his visa so he could head to Goodyear, Ariz., to attend Spring Training with the Tribe.
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that the Dominican Republic prosecutors agreed to drop the charges against Hernandez in return for the completion of a work program in his home country. It is not immediately clear how that step might expedite the process of obtaining a visa and returning to the United States.
"I wouldn't want to speculate on that," Antonetti said.
Antonetti also declined comment when asked how likely it was that Hernandez would face a suspension from Major League Baseball upon returning to the United States. The general manager did note, however, that Indians manager Manny Acta has been in frequent contact with Hernandez throughout the entire ordeal.
Acta and Cleveland pitching coach Scott Radinsky devised a throwing program for Hernandez to follow in the Dominican Republic, where the pitcher has been working out at the team's baseball academy. Hernandez has been building up his arm strength and pitch count similarly to the rest of the Indians pitchers who are in Arizona for Spring Training.
"All we're doing," Acta said, "is keeping in touch with him and making sure that he's following the program we sent for him. He threw three innings [Tuesday] in a simulated game. That's all we know. The rest of it, it's going to be up to the U.S. State Department. He can do all he wants down there, and he can follow the program, but they'll have the last word."
It is clear that the Indians still view Hernandez -- who is 31 years old and not 28 as Cleveland inititally thought -- as a big part of their rotation. Prior to his arrest, Hernandez was penciled in for one of the Nos. 3-5 spots within the starting staff. Under the new circumstances, the Tribe is holding a spring competition for one available spot.
Justin Masterson will begin this season as the Indians' Opening Day starter, which is a role Hernandez filled a year ago. Behind Masterson are rotation locks Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Tomlin and Derek Lowe. Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff and Zach McAllister are the four options for the fifth spot.
Whenever Hernandez arrives in the United States -- whether that is later this spring or at some point this summer -- it is expected that he will slide into the rotation as soon as he is deemed ready.
"If he didn't have this issue, he would've been in our rotation," Acta said. "So I don't think any of this changes the plans. It's him getting over here, showing us that he is in good enough shape to compete and then we'll go from there."
Hernandez, who went 7-15 with a 5.25 ERA in 32 starts for the Indians last season, logged roughly 50 pitches in his latest three-inning simulated game, according to Acta. The right-hander will continue to add innings to his outings as the month progresses -- the idea being that he will be on a similar pace as the rest of Cleveland's pitchers.
"That's the hope that he has and that we have, too," Acta said. "But, we're not just going to take it for granted and as soon as he lands on a plane just say, 'Hey, you've got three or four innings against Anaheim or the Rangers.' We have to evaluate things and go from there."
If Hernandez does gain clearance to join the Indians during Spring Training, he would first need to work through bullpen sessions and simulated games before jumping into Cactus League contests.
Acta said the team did receive film of Hernandez throwing to young hitters at the academy, but it was hard to accurately analyze the footage.
"According to him, he was throwing hard and down with sinking action," Acta said. "I'll have to go by his words."
The Indians do not have any Minor League options remaining for Hernandez, so the club would not be able to option him to an affiliate to log a few outings prior to joining the big league staff. If Hernandez returns to the United States during the season, though, Antonetti said Major League Baseball might give approval for the pitcher to make some Minor League starts.
Antonetti added that it is MLB, and not Cleveland, that has control over the restricted list.
"These are all things that we would have to work through," Antonetti said. "But in past cases of players that have been on the restricted list, those guys have been allowed to pitch in the Minor Leagues as they try to get ready for the Major Leagues."
It is not clear when that step of the complicated process might arrive.
When the time does come for Hernandez to step back into the fold, the Indians want it to be as seamless a transition as possible.
"As best we can, we've tried to simulate a Spring Training environment for him down there," Antonetti said. "So, if and when we get clarity about his status, and he's able to travel to the United States, he hopefully won't be too far behind."