They don’t name MVPs for the first round of PCL playoff series, but if they did Omaha’s Gorkys Hernandez would have been in the conversation.
But now the Storm Chasers will have to move on without him.
Hernandez has left the team to be with his wife for the birth of their child. He isn’t available for the team’s PCL championship series with Salt Lake, a best-of-five matchup that starts with Tuesday’s 7:05 p.m. Game 1 at Werner Park.
“He put us in a good spot and left on a good note,” Omaha infielder Christian Colon said.
Hernandez, despite batting ninth in the order, was an offensive force in the three-game sweep of Oklahoma City. He was 4 for 8 (.500) while leading the team in hits, average, runs (four) and RBIs (four) and sharing the team lead in walks (three). He had a .636 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of 1.000.
Oh, and his three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 3 erased a 6-4 deficit and clinched the series.
“It’s like any other time of the year — guys come and go, and other guys are going to step up,” utility player Anthony Seratelli said. “He had an unbelievable series and really helped us get to the final, and now other guys are going to have to win this for him. It stinks to lose a guy who was hot, but we’ll be fine.”
Omaha manager Mike Jirschele will shift Paulo Orlando back to center field — where he played regularly before Hernandez was acquired in a midseason trade — and the Chasers also plan to activate outfielder Brian Fletcher (wrist) from the disabled list.
Fletcher seems likely to serve as the designated hitter, with Seratelli moving from first base to right field and Ben Broussard from DH to first base.
“He needs to be there,” Jirschele said of the absence of Hernandez. “Your family is still the most important thing.”
Besides Fletcher, a middle-of-the-order power threat, Omaha also expects to activate left-handed pitcher Everett Teaford (hand) and use him out of the bullpen.
And Yordano Ventura, suspended for a violation of team rules shortly before his scheduled start in Game 1 in Oklahoma City, is scheduled to start Game 2.
Like Ventura, it’s been a while since Game 1 starter Chris Dwyer has pitched. The left-hander started Sept. 1 in the next-to-last day of the regular season and had been scheduled to start Game 4 against Oklahoma City — but the series never got that far.
Now, because of an off day between Games 2 and 3 of the PCL final, Dwyer is also scheduled to start, if necessary, in Game 5.
“It’s definitely nice to get some rest at this point in the season,” Dwyer said. “Staying on that five-day schedule, staying in that routine and that same time frame is beneficial as well.
“But I’ll take a little time off. That’s never going to hurt. I’ve thrown a couple of bullpens and I feel strong.”
Behind Dwyer and Ventura in the rotation are Justin Marks and Brian Sanches, who filled in for Ventura in Oklahoma City and pitched brilliantly. Clayton Mortensen, who pitched Game 2 against the RedHawks, is moving to the bullpen.
When Omaha split a four-game series at Salt Lake from Aug. 3 through 6, its playoff starters were a combined 2-1 with a 2.28 ERA, allowing 19 hits and six walks while striking out 20 in 272⁄3 innings.
Marks had the most dominant performance, allowing two runs on two hits while striking out nine in seven innings of the series opener. Ventura started and Sanches relieved and got the win in the second game, with the pair combining to go 7 2⁄3 innings while allowing 11 hits and three runs, with two walks and 11 strikeouts. Dwyer was hit with three unearned runs and took the loss in the third game, despite allowing two earned runs on six hits in six innings.
“We’ve faced them a lot in Double A, too,” Dwyer said of the Los Angeles Angels farm club, which faces Kansas City prospects in the Texas League, too. “But nothing really changes. The most important thing is strike one, getting ahead with the fastball, command the strike zone and pitching the way you know how to pitch.”
Like Dwyer and Ventura, Omaha’s position players got an unusual bit of extra time off following the sweep of Oklahoma City that wrapped up Friday night. The team took Saturday and Sunday off before working out briefly Monday at Werner Park.
“I think they needed it,” Jirschele said. “That was a nice series, but it was a tough series. We had to battle to win those games and had to come from behind to win two of them. Our pitching needed the rest. We were fighting to get into the playoffs and then through the first three games — it’s been tough. I never really had a chance to rest anybody.”
» Catcher Manny Pina, who took a foul ball off his face mask in Game 1 and hasn’t played since, is still questionable with a slight concussion.
» Salt Lake finished second in the 16-team PCL in hitting (.287) and runs (809), while Omaha’s pitching staff finished third in ERA (3.91) and first in strikeouts (1,183).
» Salt Lake compiled a league-worst 5.37 ERA.
» Infielders Grant Green and Andrew Romine, who were a combined 12 for 26 against Omaha, have since been promoted to the majors.
» Salt Lake’s Matt Shoemaker, scheduled to start Game 1 and, if necessary, Game 5, led the PCL in starts (29), innings pitched (184 1⁄3) and strikeouts (160).
» The winner of the PCL championship series advances to the one-game Triple-A National Championship, Sept. 17 in Allentown, Pa., against the winner of the International League championship series between Pawtucket and Durham.