CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Landon Hernandez is hitting .333 with three doubles and six RBIs in his first season as Hawaii's starting catcher.
UH catcher Hernandez standing out a year after sitting
Picking a spot backing up Esteban Lopez over going pro has paid off
Landon Hernandez wasn't used to sitting.
The catcher from Cathedral City, Calif., was one of the best high school baseball players in California in 2005, and had played on the USA junior national team.
Who: Wichita State (5-2) at Hawaii (9-3)
When: Today and tomorrow, 6:35 p.m., Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
Where: Les Murakami Stadium
TV: Friday and Sunday, KFVE, Ch. 5
Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
Promotion: Active, reserve and retired members of the armed services can get two tickets for the price of one.
Hernandez could've gone pro, or to another college and played right away. Instead, he chose Hawaii, where he knew he would have to be a backup as a freshman because the Rainbows had Esteban Lopez returning in 2006.
So far, it looks like Hernandez's patience has paid off, for him and UH. He's a big reason the Rainbows are 9-3 heading into tonight's game against No. 12 Wichita State, the first of three this weekend at Les Murakami Stadium.
"It was hard sometimes, waiting to play," Hernandez said. "But I knew that's what it was going to be, and I tried to use my time wisely."
Hernandez, who has started all 12 games this season, is batting .333. Three of his 15 hits are doubles, and he has six RBIs. But his biggest contributions come from behind the plate.
Hernandez and the pitchers have allowed just two stolen bases in five attempts. He's been charged with just one error, on a catcher's interference call.
"He's definitely stepped his game up from last year," senior pitcher Mark Rodrigues said. "Last year he didn't get to play much, but he came out this year and became a good leader behind the plate. He's definitely matured at being a catcher.
"Coach Meij (assistant Keith Komeiji, a former catcher) has helped him a lot. He's definitely gotten better at making some of those balls look like strikes. And he's a good handler of pitchers."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii catcher Landon Hernandez has drawn praise for his defense in his first season as a starter.
Coach Mike Trapasso said the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Hernandez might be the team's most improved player -- and at the game's most demanding position.
"As far as the biggest jump anyone's made from last year to this it's him, and it's not in anything physical. It's all mentally," Trapasso said. "He's really matured, we've seen that. From that standpoint, he's leading our staff, being the captain on the field. "You can't take a pitch off, particularly if there's somebody on base."
Hernandez deserves a good share of the credit for UH's 2.44 team ERA.
"More than anything else, it's his job to take care of our pitchers and lead them on the field," Trapasso said. "And that's not an easy thing to do because some pitchers need a pat on the back and some pitchers need a kick in the butt.
"He's able to do a good job with those guys and settle 'em down and keep 'em on an even keel. If the kid's feeling down or pouting, he can shake him out of it."
Hernandez also pitched at Desert Chapel, a small high school in Palm Springs, where he stood out in basketball as well.
"Each athletic kid needed to play more than one sport so we could field a team," Hernandez said. "I ended up playing basketball for conditioning, for running. I ended up practicing and going with the flow and ended up somewhat decent."
Hernandez turned down a visit to LSU after he toured UH, and he let it be known that a draft pick would probably be wasted on him.
"I believe I could've gotten drafted, but coming out of a small school not all the teams knew about me," said Hernandez, who built his reputation as a prospect mostly in summer travel ball. "Basically I came here to show what I can do and raise my stock a little bit. I think I'm getting better coaching here (than in the low-minors)."
He helped the Chillicothe Mudcats win the M.I.N.K. (Missouri-Iowa-Nebraska-Kansas) wood bat college summer league championship last summer.