New Dodgers catcher Ramon Hernandez was a happy man as he took in his new surroundings Sunday morning.
“This is one of the best teams in my whole career,” he said. “Maybe the A’s when I was young.”
Hernandez was the primary catcher for four years in Oakland, from 2000-03, when the A’s averaged 98 wins a season.
“I was excited when they told me I got traded to the Dodgers,” he said.
Now 36, Hernandez is five years removed from his last season as an everyday number-one catcher. The Dodgers only need him to be a backup, which is more than the Colorado Rockies needed when they designated Hernandez for assignment on March 29.
Hernandez said was at home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when he learned he’d been traded for Aaron Harang on Saturday.
“He’s a great dude, a great guy,” Hernandez said of Harang, his batterymate in Oakland and Cincinnati. “Sometimes change is good, you know?”
Change makes sense for both players. There was no room for Harang in the Dodgers’ rotation and no defined role for him in the bullpen, where he’d never pitched on a regular basis in his 11 major-league seasons. There was no room for Hernandez in Colorado after the Rockies appointed Yorvit Torrealba the backup to Wilin Rosario.
Hernandez has a career .267 batting average (the full slash line: .267/.327/.417), but only batted .217 last season and .148 in spring training. The Dodgers didn’t get much offensively from the backup catcher’s position last year, when Matt Treanor batted .175 with two home runs in 36 games, so anything above that would be a bonus from a player who’s only expected to play two games a week when Ellis is healthy.
“A.J.’s our guy and Ramon’s here to give us experience,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “I don’t want to say he’s not here to mentor A.J. but A.J.’s the leader of our staff.”
Hernandez has played 81, 97, 91 and 52 games the last four seasons, respectively. He wouldn’t put a cap on how many he could play if needed. “My body feels great,” he said.
Mattingly said the Dodgers won’t keep three catchers for long. That means Tim Federowicz, who won the backup’s job out of spring training, figures to be sent back to Triple-A. Federowicz will make his debut today, catching Hyun-Jin Ryu.
More on him later today.