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UCI's Hernandez prolific

College Baseball

Senior standout has added pitching to his offensive and defensive prowess, magnifying his star status.

May 19, 2011|By Barry Faulkner, barry.faulkner@latimes.com

In addition to improving his defense, after his inaugural season at third base as a junior (he was a designated hitter his freshman season at Division II Cal State Los Angeles and played second base while hitting .450 with seven homers and 42 extra-base hits as the Western State Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore at College of the Canyons), the coaches elected to try him as a pitcher beginning in December.

With a live arm, brazen competitiveness, and a newly developed changeup, Hernandez earned the confidence of Gillespie and first-year pitching coach Jason Dietrich. He was named the team's closer in January and has excelled in that role.

"It's an incredible feeling," Hernandez said of recording the game's final out. "Growing up, I was always a starting pitcher, so I never knew what it was like to close. But ending the game and knowing you played a big role in ending the game feels great."

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Hernandez said his double duty has made it more difficult to feel great physically this season and, he admits, his wrist is still less than 100%. He has also dislocated a finger and experienced back pain this season, but has yet to miss a game. His 199 at-bats are tops on the team.

"My teammates know I am going to give them all I have, and they know that I'm going to be out there, no matter what," Hernandez said.

An incessantly curious student of the game, Hernandez admits his constant passion for knowledge can exasperate some of his teammates, as well as others.

"I love baseball and I love breaking it down," he said. "I feel like the more you talk about it, the more you pick up little things. I think I annoy people because I want to talk baseball so much, but the more you know, the better you are going to become. My girlfriend always tells me, 'You need to stop thinking about baseball for five minutes,' but I don't think that's ever going to happen."

Hernandez, a three-time All-Mission League performer at Alemany High, said he used a redshirt season in 2009 to enhance his knowledge of the game. It was then that he was further convinced he will coach when his playing career is over.

"Coaching is what I was born to do," said Hernandez, who has already graduated with a degree in sociology and a minor in education.

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