Hernandez Fits the Scouts' Bill in 3-2 Victory

Times Staff Writer

The latest performance by Cal State Northridge pitcher Jeremy Hernandez inspires a question:

Just how tough is it to be a professional baseball scout?

Here is a college junior who is 6-5, 195 pounds and consistently throws in the 90 m.p.h. range. What more do these people need to know?

Nevertheless, the scouts were out in force again on a windy Wednesday at Cal State Dominguez Hills, packing radar guns and spitting sunflower seeds.

And Hernandez gave them the kind of show you would expect from such a hot commodity.

The right-hander struck out 10 without walking a batter and allowed only five hits as Northridge defeated Dominguez, 3-2, in a California Collegiate Athletic Assn. game.

"That's one of the better performances I've seen in a while," Dominguez Coach Andy Lopez said. "I guess there was a reason all those radar guns were pointed out there."

The two dozen or so scouts who watched the beginning of the game saw Brian Ayers of Dominguez match Hernandez almost pitch for pitch for five innings.

Ayers gained the upper hand in the fifth, in fact, when the Toros scored a run in the bottom of the inning on a two-out single by Joe Pardo and a triple by Chuck Ludlow. Before that, Hernandez hadn't allowed a hit.

Northridge came back with a two-out rally of its own in the sixth. Lenn Gilmore and John Balfanz drew back-to-back walks. Craig Burns, who had struck out in his two previous at-bats, followed with a single to score Gilmore and tie the score. Tim Rapp then bounced a one-hopper through the infield to score Balfanz, who slid under the tag of Toro catcher Chris Plank. Dennis Brady came on in relief of Ayers to get the final out.

Dominguez made it 2-2 in its half of the seventh when Pardo doubled home Fred Hanker, but the tie was short-lived.

Jim Vatcher, CSUN's diminutive center fielder, put the Matadors ahead for good, lining Brady's first pitch of the eighth inning for a home run over the 362-foot sign in left field.

The homer by the 5-9 senior was hit through a stiff wind blowing in from right-center field.

"The wind was holding the ball up so I didn't think it would go," said Vatcher, who also sent a long drive to the base of the center-field fence for an out in the sixth inning. "Luckily, it just cut right through it."

It was Vatcher's fifth homer this season. He had six last year.

Given the lead, Hernandez (4-3) promptly closed the door. He retired the last six Toro hitters in order, striking out four, for his second complete game.

"He was as strong in the last inning as he was in the first," Lopez said. "We had our chances to get him in the middle innings, but he made quality pitches in situations when we had the guys we wanted up there. Give him credit."

Indeed, Hernandez, whose fastball was clocked at between 86 m.p.h. and 90 m.p.h., didn't allow a hit to the top five batters in the Dominguez order, four of whom came in batting better than .300.

Northridge Coach Terry Craven said he hoped Hernandez's performance was indicative of the way he would pitch the rest of the season.

"He was throwing his two breaking pitches for strikes and when he can do that, he's extra tough," Craven said.

"Everything seemed to be working today--my changeup, slider and fastball," Hernandez said. "I was working the inside corner better than I usually do and that's encouraging. I've been working on that."

Hernandez was as successful at jamming Toro batters as he was at unjamming the CCAA standings. At least a little.

Northridge (15-7, 3-1 in conference) moved into second place with the victory, 1 1/2 games behind Cal Poly Pomona. Dominguez (16-8, 2-2 in conference), the CCAA's defending champion, dropped into fourth place, a half-game behind UC Riverside.

Northridge and Dominguez are scheduled to meet again Friday at CSUN.

Dan Penner will start for the Matadors. He is 6-2 this season after transferring from Hawaii. Penner will face Chris Haslock, the Toros' top pitcher, who is 3-2 with 1.77 earned-run average.

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