‘Part of a dream’: Facing Miguel Cabrera an unforgettable memory for Royals pitcher

Detroit News

Kansas City, Mo. — It’s an at-bat and a game long forgotten by Miguel Cabrera, just one of the 110 games he played at Kauffman Stadium over the years, one made more unremarkable by it coming at the tail end of the dreadful, COVID-shortened 2020 season.

But it is an at-bat Royals right-hander Carlos Hernandez will never forget.

“I got him,” said the 25-year-old Venezuelan-born Hernandez said with a big smile.

Sept. 26, 2020. The Tigers already had scored four times against him and it was still the second inning. Cabrera, in fact, was the last batter Hernandez would face that day. But the only remembrance, the one etched in his memory bank forever, was the sight of Cabrera swinging and missing at a third-strike slider.

“I was definitely lucky to face him, first of all,” Hernandez said through the Royals bilingual interpreter. “This guy has been in the league for a lot of years and has done a lot. He is going to be in the Hall of Fame. So to be in that situation, to strike him out, that is part of a dream for me.”

Hernandez, who like most young Venezuelans grew up idolizing Cabrera, was denied another shot at him Sunday. He was scheduled to start for the Royals, but the game was postponed due to inclement weather.

It will be made up as part of a doubleheader July 11.

Hernandez watched Cabrera collect four hits in the first two games of this series to move within five of the hallowed 3,000-hit mark.

“Extremely proud for all Venezuelans for him to be in that situation,” Hernandez said. “Growing up watching him play, from that point on to becoming a big-leaguer myself and actually playing against him, it’s a place of gratitude for me. I just really appreciate that I am in this right now.”

This is the collateral impact of Cabrera’s milestone chase. Generations of Latin-born players and fans stand in awe of his accomplishments and for Venezuela, a country embattled politically and economically, it’s a source of deep pride and hope.

“Everybody is going to be extremely proud to see him hit 3,000,” Hernandez said. “Hopefully he just keeps putting up numbers like this.”

Though maybe not so much against the Royals?

“Right,” he said laughing. “Not against the Royals.”

Welcome back

If you expected Wily Peralta to come back to Detroit dragging his tail or with a chip on his shoulder because he had to accept another minor-league deal, well, that’s just not his nature.

“No, I’m happy to be back,” he said Saturday after rejoining the club after a brief stint with Triple-A Toledo.

Peralta was a savior of sorts for the Tigers rotation last season. He posted a 3.07 ERA, and the Tigers won nine of his 18 starts. But they let him pursue free agency and Peralta was left hanging without a team throughout the 99-day lockout.

“It wasn’t really stressful,” he said. “I just kept my mind positive. I was able to do my normal routine and my offseason workouts. You want a job right away, but you have to stay positive.”

Still, after sitting out the 2020 season, he reestablished himself as a useful right-handed pitcher at the big-league level. It had to be a gut-punch not to get a big-league offer.

“Yeah, but that’s nothing I can control,” he said. “A couple of teams were interested, including the Tigers, before the lockout. Then after the lockout, everything moved so fast. And I had the visa issue, too. That was the bigger issue.”

The Tigers signed Peralta back to work in long relief and make spot starts.

“He can really pitch, for one,” manager AJ Hinch said. “And he’s coming back to a team he’s very comfortable with. He’s been important to us. He’s been a successful starter and he’s been a successful reliever in the past.

“If you’ve been around him at all you know he’s going to have a smile on his face and compete.”

His presence certainly brought out a lot of smiles in the Tigers’ clubhouse.

“I had a really good time with this group of guys last year,” Peralta said. “At the end of the season I told them I wanted to come back and they wanted me to come back. I’m really happy they supported me like that and I’m glad to be here.”

Stretch him out

The Tigers sent young right-hander Elvin Rodriguez back to Triple-A Toledo to make room for Peralta. But it was less a demotion than a transition assignment.

“This gives us a chance to get Elvin’s season started,” Hinch said. “We want him to go down there and pitch every five days and build himself back up as a starter.”

Rodriguez, acquired from the Angels in the Justin Upton trade before the 2018 season, has been a starter in A-ball and Double A. With five doubleheaders on the schedule, and the ability to add an extra player to the roster in those games, the Tigers hope Rodriguez can be an option to make a spot start or two down the road.

Around the horn

Lefty Tyler Alexander, whose start was rained out here Sunday, will pitch the first game of the Yankees series at Comerica Park on Tuesday. Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez will pitch Wednesday. Thursday’s starter was not named, but it is likely that veteran Michael Pineda will be making his Tigers debut against the team he pitched for from 2014 through 2017.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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