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PADRES UPDATE : NOTEBOOK / BOB WOLF : Hernandez Ready to Pull Out the Stops

Jeremy Hernandez, the Padres’ latest hope to fill their need for a closer, figures he got the break of his life when he was converted into a relief pitcher last spring.

Hernandez, 25, a 6-foot-5 right-hander who was born in Burbank and lives in Tujunga, is one of three players from triple-A Las Vegas who joined the Padres on Sunday when the roster limit was expanded from 25 to 40. The others are catcher Tom Lampkin and outfielder Jim Vatcher.

“I’d always been a starter in four years in the minor leagues, and I’d been struggling a little bit,” Hernandez said. “The change was a combined effort by Mike Roarke (Padre pitching coach) and Jon Matlack (Las Vegas pitching coach). They came to me on the first day of spring training and said, ‘We want to try something new with you. We want to make you into a stopper.’

“They said I seemed to be able to bounce back the day after I started, and that gave them the idea that I might be able to pitch day after day. They told me that was the best way I could help the team, and the best way for me to get to the major leagues.”

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Hernandez was the St. Louis Cardinals’ second-round draft choice in 1987, and the Padres acquired him in April, 1989 for outfielder Randell Byers. At double-A Wichita last season, he had a 7-6 record and a 4.53 earned-run average, so he had yet to establish himself as a prime prospect as a starter.

Even Hernandez’s numbers at Las Vegas were not overpowering, but it should be noted that that many parks in the Pacific Coast League--Las Vegas’ Cashman Field included--are pitchers’ nightmares. In 56 appearances, he had a 4-8 record, a 4.74 ERA and 13 saves. He struck out 67 batters and walked 25 in 68 1/3 innings.

“I was surprised they called me up,” Hernandez said. “I knew I’d been throwing well, but I didn’t expect to be up in September because of my inconsistency.”

Hernandez has a fastball, slider and forkball. Asked about the velocity of his fastball, he said, “It’s been clocked at 93 miles an hour. It’s my big out pitch.”

With Craig Lefferts having an up-and-down season and Larry Andersen ailing, Manager Greg Riddoch said he would consider using Hernandez when the Padres’ next save situation arises.

Bip Roberts played prankster Sunday when Pirate stars Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla were being interviewed by Joe Morgan and John Miller before the ESPN telecast. Roberts sneaked up behind Bonds with a paper plate covered with shaving cream and smeared it over his face. Bonds said nothing and completed the interview without removing the mess. . . . The Padres need just one victory against the Chicago Cubs to win the season series from them for the first time since 1983. The Padres are 6-3 to date. . . . Tonight’s game will start at 6:05 and will be followed by fireworks.


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