SURPRISE, Ariz. — Runelvys Hernandez did everything he could to get out of the Dominican Republic and make it to the big leagues.
He made it. But along the way, all that hard work wrecked his pitching arm and put his career on hold for almost two years.
Now, Hernandez and his rebuilt right elbow are ready to return to the Kansas City Royals rotation, and his smile says volumes about how it feels.
“Right now things are coming along really fast,” he said after an exhibition outing earlier this month. “Everything’s coming together really well. The most important thing right now is I’m pain free.”
In 2003, Hernandez won his first four decisions, the first pitcher in the majors to four victories that year, and had a 1.36 ERA after four games.
But the strain on Hernandez’s arm, which had been building for years under his workload, was about to prove too much.
“In 1999, when I played summer league, I got some tendinitis. That’s the year my problem started,” Hernandez said. “It didn’t bother me before, but I knew I had a problem.”
Hernandez lost his next three decisions after that 4-0 start, then went on the disabled list for 42 games with a sore elbow before returning in mid-July.
The Royals optioned him back to Double-A Omaha. But instead of reporting back to the minors, Hernandez decided it was time to stop pitching through the pain.
Doctors discovered a partial tear in his right ulnar tendon, and Hernandez underwent Tommy John surgery on Sept 5.
He hasn’t pitched in a regular-season game since, but the hiatus is almost over.
“What I’m really excited about is he’s able to turn that change-up over,” catcher John Buck said. “He’s throwing that slider very sharp, and any time you see a guy turning the change-up over that’s a good indication that he’s healthy, because that puts a lot of strain on the elbow.”