CLEVELAND — A remorseful Roberto Hernandez, formerly Fausto Carmona, met with reporters for the first time since returning to America, speaking through an interpreter for approximately 20 minutes at Progressive Field on Sunday.
Hernandez apologized to the Indians organization, his teammates and Cleveland fans for falsifying his identity, which resulted in his arrest and detainment in the Dominican Republic since January.
“It was a bad moment,” said Hernandez, who was finally able to secure a visa to return to the states, but is serving a three-week suspension from Major League Baseball that was handed down Saturday. “I thank God that I’m here and I’ve been given a new chance.”
In what has become a growing problem in the Dominican Republic, Hernandez said he falsified his identity and lowered his age to become more enticing to scouts and secure a professional contract. He said the real Fausto Carmona was a distant family member, confirming an ESPN report, but disputed reports that the family member tried to extort money from him to keep quiet.
Ultimately, Hernandez said, his plan wasn’t worth the end results.
“I tried not to think about it but I knew one day that this would come up,” he said of being exposed. “I want to forget about the past and move forward. I don’t know if I’m going to be better, but I’m going to work at giving what I am because I am still the same person.”
Indians players welcomed Hernandez back with open arms, making light of his increase in age from 28 to 31 by presenting him with three birthday cakes in the clubhouse before Sunday’s game with the Orioles.
The right-hander, a staple of Cleveland’s rotation since 2007 when he won 19 games, played catch in the outfield Sunday and is expected to throw a bullpen session today at Progressive Field.
He will then report to one of Cleveland’s minor-league affiliates to begin a rehab assignment that is expected to cover three or four outings. The earliest he can return from the suspension is Aug. 11
“Physically, I feel ready, but I’m going to wait to be told what to do and to know what my plans are going forward,” said Hernandez, who has tried to stay in pitching shape by throwing bullpen sessions and simulated games, while facing live hitting on occasion at the team’s complex in the DR.
The Indians exercised a $7 million option on Hernandez prior to his arrest this offseason. He was not being paid in the Dominican, where he agreed to restructure his contract in March — partly in hopes of avoiding an MLB suspension.
He will make $2.5 million (plus incentives) this season, with a club option for 2013 reduced from $9 million to $6 million. Another club option for $12 million in 2014 was eliminated.
Hernandez will pitch a shortened season in what could be his final year with the Indians, who could choose to decline his option for 2013.
“I don’t have control of that,” Hernandez said. “The only thing I want to do is help my team, and when it’s my time to be on the mound, to do my job.”
With a left-hander on the mound for Baltimore, designated hitter Travis Hafner was out of the lineup Sunday.
Hafner, who has been moved down in the order, has struggled at the plate since leaving the disabled list, hitting just .200 (8-for-40) with two home runs and four RBIs in 12 games. He is at .233 for the season, with eight homers and 27 RBIs in 52 games, batting .140 (8-for-57) with runners in scoring position — four hits in last 48 at-bats with RISP.
Ray of light
Third baseman Jack Hannahan has begun to show signs of life at the plate, going 5-for-12 with a double, a homer and two RBIs over his last six games.
“It’s good to see him have some success because he’s struggled since he came back from the DL,” manager Manny Acta said. “We need everybody, one through nine.”
Hannahan was batting .287 when he was sidelined in mid-May with calf and back ailments. Since returning from the injured list, Hannahan, who was not in the lineup Sunday, is batting just .203 (14-for-69) over his last 15 games to lower his season average to .247.
The Indians entered Sunday owning a .9865 fielding percentage (48 errors), which ranked third in the American League and fourth in the majors behind the Mariners (.990), White Sox (.989) and Cincinnati (.9867). … Tonight, 7:05, Masterson (6-8, 4.29) vs. Hunter (4-4, 5.71).
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or email@example.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.