By Brian Frank
Adrian Hernandez’s most effective pitch is one that is a bit hard to define. The Bisons reliever throws a pitch that MLB Pipeline calls “one of the best in the organization.” It's often referred to as both a changeup and screwball.
“It’s a very unique pitch,” catcher Chris Bec said. “That’s why some people call it a screwball. It’s an air bender. It defies all things.”
“It’s literally like a one of one,” he continued. “So hitters when they go up there don’t really have an idea of what the ball is going to do. No other pitcher throws it – I mean very few if they do.”
Hernadez started pitching full-time when he was fifteen-years-old. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Bisons interim manager Jeff Ware thinks it’s both a screwball and a changeup.
“I technically consider it a screwball, but it’s a changeup – I mean whatever you want to call it,” Ware said. “But yeah, the way it turns over, the spin on the baseball, it’s more of a screwball than a changeup. But a screwball is kind of technically a changeup because it’s got the velo separation from his fastball.”
“We’ve got a couple guys that have pretty exceptional pitches,” Bisons catcher Stevie Berman weighed in. “His changeup is definitely on the rarer side. It basically looks like a fastball and then at the last second just drops under a lot of barrels.”
So does Berman consider it a changeup?
“I don’t know – but whatever it is, it’s pretty good,” he said.
Despite the screwball-like movement on the pitch, Hernandez calls the pitch a changeup.
“I’ve always thrown a changeup,” he said. “It’s a changeup grip. So I call it a changeup.”
Hernandez grew up playing baseball in Escuinapa de Hidalgo, Mexico, but didn’t begin pitching full time until a bit later in his childhood.
“As a young kid, I was a catcher and a third baseman,” he said. “I pitched as a kid, but I didn’t become a full-time pitcher until I was fifteen.”
Only twenty-two-years-old, Hernandez has been throwing his unique pitch since he first took the mound. It just seemed to come natural to him.
“I’ve been throwing it since 2015,” he said. “Around 2020 is when it became really good. I didn’t find it that difficult. It kind of came natural to me – and with the grip it was just moving all over.”
“It’s something that he’s always thrown since he first came to us back in the Dominican Summer League and the GCL,” Ware said. “He already had that pitch and he can throw that thing with his eyes closed.”
Does Hernandez know why the pitch has such unique movement?
“No,” he answered with a laugh.
“I honestly don’t know,” Berman said of why the pitch moves like it does. “That’s probably why I’m not a pitcher,” the Bisons backstop added with a chuckle. “If I could do what he does, I’d probably do it. I’m not really sure. I think he’s a pretty talented arm.”
Bec believes the uniqueness of the pitch comes from flexibility in Hernandez’s shoulder and wrist.
“It’s extreme pronation,” Bec said. “His shoulder mobility is awesome and it lets him do that.”
Hernandez delivers his unique changeup/screwball. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Ware has seen a similar pitch before – back when he was a pitcher in the Brewers organization.
“Angel Miranda, who I played with in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, a left-hander, he had a similar pitch,” Ware said. “He’s the one guy I saw with my own eyes who’s similar. It was a really great pitch for him. I like Adrian’s a little bit better because Adrian’s is a little bit more like a changeup, it has that big velo separation, whereas the screwball that Miranda threw was a little bit closer to his fastball.”
Hernandez’s inimitable pitch has helped him rise quickly through the Blue Jays system. He was promoted to Triple-A in April and pitched in 31 games out of the Bisons bullpen this season. On the cusp of the major leagues, he’s focusing on improving his pitching repertoire in order to reach his ultimate goal.
“I’m still working on my best pitch – the changeup,” Hernandez said, “but I’m also trying to get my other pitches to be just as good.”
Ware echoed Hernandez’s assessment of what he needs to do to take his game to the next level.
“Get the fastball and get the curveball in the zone,” Ware said. “Locate those a little bit more, instead of just relying on the changeup all the time. It’s such a great pitch, but once you get to Triple-A and the big league level you really want to have another pitch to go with that he can locate really well. So that’s one of the things that he’s been working on all year.”
As Hernandez works on polishing his entire arsenal, his changeup/screwball remains his go-to pitch that he doesn’t shy away from throwing in any count or situation.
“Yeah,” Bec chuckled, “when you’ve got an unhittable pitch you’re pretty confident.”