Braves manager Brian Snitker said Sunday that Hernandez, 34, opted out due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision was made after Hernandez participated in workouts on Friday and Saturday at Truist Park.
The decision came a day after Snitker announced that four-time All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman, premier reliever Will Smith and two more Atlanta players tested positive for COVID-19. Right-hander Touki Toussaint and infielder Pete Kozma also had positive tests announced on Saturday.
Snitker said Hernandez may have realized “it is way, way different” now as players must deal with the concerns of trying to start the season during the pandemic.
“Everybody told him it would be, but until you live it I don’t think you know it,” Snitker said. “As tests come in and outbreaks and things like that, I think it’s just human nature to process these things as you have family members involved and children and things like that.
“Things like that aren’t a reality until we get here and live it.”
Hernandez, a six-time All-Star in 15 seasons with Seattle who won the 2010 AL Cy Young Award, needed a fresh start following 2019, his worst season. The right-hander called King Felix posted a 6.40 ERA, was 1-8 in 15 starts and lost his spot in the rotation.
Hernandez signed a one-year minor league deal with the Braves on Jan. 20 . The deal included an invitation to big league spring training, and he would have earned $1 million if added to Atlanta’s 40-man roster.
Hernandez made a strong early impression in spring training and may have been on track for winning a spot in the rotation before the coronavirus pandemic delayed the season.
“He did exactly what we asked him to do, which is get guys out,” Snitker said. “He didn’t do anything to not warrant making our club in the spring.”
Snitker said he didn’t know if Hernandez planned to seek a return to the Braves in 2021.
Snitker said no decision had been made on the competition for the final spot in the rotation. With veteran left-hander Cole Hamels apparently on track for the start of the 60-game season on July 23 or 24, the rotation also is expected to include Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz and Max Fried.
Soroka said Sunday that having Freeman and other teammates test positive has been a reality check for the team.
“This was a bit of a wake-up call for all of us and I think for some of our fan base as well,” Soroka said. “… It’s a wake-up call that this can happen and kind of kicked us in gear to make sure we all are in protocol down to the T.”
Snitker said he has ample pitching depth, with Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Sean Newcomb and others still competing for the fifth spot.
NOTES: If Freeman is not ready for the start of the season, one option at first base is Austin Riley, who is competing with Johan Camargo at third base. Riley, who also played left field in 2019, impressed Snitker at first base in spring training. “He’d be fine there defensively,” Snitker said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.” Other options at first base include Camargo and Adam Duvall.