Hernandez latest addition to revamped 'pen

Updated: December 15, 2003, 5:28 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- The Philadelphia Phillies agreed with free agent Roberto Hernandez on a one-year contract Monday, adding yet another reliever to their rebuilt bullpen.

Hernandez must pass a physical, expected to be taken Wednesday, before the deal is finalized. The contract guarantees him $750,000, with bonuses based on performance.

The Phillies have already added All-Star closer Billy Wagner in a trade with Houston and signed free agent Tim Worrell this offseason.

"They had strong arms last year. They got stronger with Wagner and Worrell. Hopefully I can get my two cents in with this bullpen, not just with performance but experience," Hernandez said.

Hernandez, 39, ranks ninth on the career saves list with 320. But he did not have any as a right-handed setup man for the Atlanta Braves last season, when he was 5-3 with a 4.35 ERA. He walked 43 and struck out 45 in 60 innings.

Hernandez said uneven use contributed to his problems.

"Funny things happen when you lose your groove," he said. "I lost my release points, my snap on my split and my slider."

Along with Wagner and Worrell, Hernandez will join lefty Rheal Cormier in relief. The Phillies cut loose relievers Jose Mesa, Terry Adams, Turk Wendell and Mike Williams after the season ended, and Dan Plesac said he was retiring.

"There isn't one guy I'd be afraid to go to. It's a veteran bullpen that's been through the wars," manager Larry Bowa said.

Hernandez made his major league debut with the Chicago White Sox in 1991 -- the only season in which he had not recorded a save until 2003.

Hernandez had 43 saves for Tampa Bay in 1999. The two-time All-Star also has pitched for San Francisco and Kansas City. He is 53-54 with a 3.30 ERA lifetime.

The Phillies, who faded in the wild-card race in late September, had trouble finding a closer last season. They filled that need by trading for Wagner, who had 44 saves.

Worrell also was a closer last season in San Francisco after Robb Nen had season-ending shoulder surgery in May. Worrell had 38 saves for the Giants.

Hernandez said he was fine with any role the Phillies had for him. He said he enjoyed setting up Braves relief ace John Smoltz last season.

"I'm not looking to close at any cost," he said.

Hernandez began thinking about the Phillies when Atlanta visited Philadelphia during the final weekend of the season. At the Braves' hotel, Hernandez ran into former minor league teammate Ruben Amaro Jr., now the Phillies' assistant general manager.

"We talked at the hotel bar about the possibilities," Hernandez said. "I didn't know my situation in Atlanta."

Amaro was glad to add Hernandez.

"We are pleased to have another quality arm for our bullpen," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He has had tremendous success on the back end of the bullpen, and will add to what we already consider a strength for our team."


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press