Roberto Hernandez reintroduced himself to Cleveland Indians teammates and apologized for deceiving them.
The right-hander, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, was contrite and remorseful Sunday as he confessed to the entire organization and its fans that he pretended to be somebody he was not for the past 12 years.
”I want to say I’m sorry,” Hernandez said through interpreter Charisse Dash. ”I thank God I am here and have been given a new chance.”
Hernandez said he was grateful to the organization for supporting him after he was arrested in the Dominican Republic in January outside the U.S. consulate as he tried to renew his visa. That’s when it was discovered his name was Hernandez and he is 31 years old, three years older than listed.
The former All-Star revealed that the real Carmona is actually a ”distant cousin,” but that it was Hernandez who hatched the plan to take his name and claim he was only 17 when he signed with the Indians in 2000. He declined to discuss details.
”I want to forget the past,” he said. ”I want to work hard and help my team on the field.”
Hernandez got his old locker in the clubhouse and laughed when he looked up and saw, ”No Name,” which is the designation given new players before a nameplate can be made.
Fellow Domincan pitchers Rafael Perez and Ubaldo Jimenez slapped Hernandez on the back and greeted him warmly. One by one, other teammates stopped by to chat. As Hernandez cautiously answered questions during a press conference, right-hander Justin Masterson try to loosen up his pal by interjecting, ”Who is your favorite player on the team this year?”
Hernandez quickly replied, ”Justin Masterson,” and laughed for a moment before becoming quiet and introspective during the questioning.
”I am extremely remorseful and apologize to the fans, teammates, the team and everybody else who has looked up to me,” he said. ”I am extremely happy with the support of the fan base, but do not know what (reaction) to expect.”
Hernandez said he was ”very sad all the time,” throughout the ordeal and felt he had let down the Indians. He said the toughest part was repeated rejection each time he went to the U.S. consulate in hopes of his case being resolved.
Manager Manny Acta gave Hernandez a warm welcome.
”It was great to see him and I was very impressed with his physical shape,” Acta said. ”I know he was antsy and probably discouraged through all this, but he never stopped working.”
Hernandez is scheduled to throw a bullpen session at Progressive Field on Monday and then start a minor league rehab assignment – while serving a three-week suspension by Major League Baseball.
Hernandez had reworked his contract for a lower salary at the Indians’ request. That may have influenced the length of his suspension, which makes him eligible to pitch for Cleveland by Aug. 11.
Miami Marlins pitcher Juan Carlos Oviedo, aka Leo Nunez, was suspended eight weeks for similar fraud charges. He is eligible to be active on Monday.
Acta explained that some players from the Dominican Republic, eager to come to America and play professionally, have changed their birthdates. He did not condone the practice and said it is good that Major League Baseball is working to eliminate it.
Hernandez will make $2.5 million as a base salary in 2012 and can earn an additional $2.7 million in performance and roster bonuses. Hernandez was scheduled to make $7 million. An option clause for 2013 was dropped from $9 million to $6 million. How effective Hernandez is on the mound the remainder of the season may influence the team’s decision to pick up the option or not.
The Indians went into the offseason ready to rely on Hernandez, their opening day starter in 2011. He was 7-15 with a 5.25 ERA last season, but made 32 starts and didn’t miss a turn in the rotation.
Hernandez is 53-66 with a 4.59 ERA in five seasons and has been wildly inconsistent. He rebounded from a 1-10 record as a rookie to go 19-8 with a 3.08 ERA in 2007 to help Cleveland advance to the AL Championship Series. Two years later, he went 5-12 with a 6.32 ERA and was sent back to the minors.