How Herz got the call to the Major Leagues (2024)

June 5th, 2024

How Herz got the call to the Major Leagues (1)

Jessica Camerato

@jessicacamerato

This story was excerpted from Jessica Camerato’s Nationals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

WORCESTER, Mass. -- For the third time this season, Triple-A Rochester manager Matthew LeCroy had the opportunity to inform an eager prospect his Major League dreams were coming true.

LeCroy has had memorable in-person moments, and on Monday, he dialed up the good news to left-hander DJ Herz (the Nationals' No. 12 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline).

As the Red Wings were on the road traveling to Worcester, LeCroy made a call to the 23-year-old from one of the team buses.

“He really didn’t quite grasp it at first,” LeCroy said, smiling as he recounted the conversation. “He said, ‘You mean tomorrow? I’m pitching tomorrow?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re starting tomorrow.’ [He said], ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘You’re starting in the big leagues tomorrow.’”

Herz had last pitched on Thursday, when he allowed one run on two hits and one walk in 5 1/3 innings while striking out 10 batters. He was being tabbed to make his next start on Tuesday at Nationals Park with veteran right-hander Trevor Williams landing on the 15-day injured list with a right flexor muscle strain.

The magnitude of the news sunk in. Then Herz called LeCroy back; he realized he only had his road uniform cleats with him.

“You can pitch in anything in the big leagues,” LeCroy recalled with a laugh.

In his first full season in the Nationals organization since being acquired from the Cubs on July 31 in the Jeimer Candelario deal before the Trade Deadline, Herz was 3-2 with a 3.75 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 36 innings across nine starts with Rochester. He led the Minor Leagues with a .177 opponents’ batting average.

“He gets a lot of swing-and-miss when he’s in the zone, which I know that’s what everybody likes,” LeCroy said. “He was able to do that in his last outing, and that kind of warranted him to get a shot in the big leagues.”

In his first six starts with Rochester this season, Herz struck out 19 but allowed 16 runs (12 earned) on 14 hits and 24 walks in 20 2/3 innings. After he issued seven free passes in just 2 2/3 innings on May 8 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Red Wings shifted their pitching plans.

Herz did not appear in a game for the next nine days. During that time, he worked closely with Rochester pitching coach Rafael Chaves to study and analyze video. Herz threw three side sessions instead of making his next scheduled start.

In his next three outings from May 18-30, Herz recorded 23 strikeouts to five walks and allowed just three runs in 15 1/3 innings.

“That reset for him got him fundamentally and mechanically sound,” LeCroy said.

LeCroy believes Herz’s athleticism helps him make adjustments quickly. (Herz was a shooting guard in high school basketball and had plans to walk on to the UNC football team as a quarterback.) The learning period also highlighted a key characteristic for big league success.

“His ability to be coached,” LeCroy said. “He leans a lot on the catcher. He stays within himself. He’s worked on controlling the running game. … I think if he continues to work and do the things he needs to do in between starts, he should be really good.”

Herz threw four-plus innings, striking out three while allowing four runs on seven hits and two walks, in his debut Tuesday against the Mets. He joined southpaw Mitchell Parker as the second prospect to be called up from Triple-A this season to pitch in the Nationals' starting rotation.

“For Mitchell to go up and do as well as he has," LeCroy said, "and then for DJ to go up tonight and compete at that level, for me, that says a lot about what’s going on down here but also drafting those guys, trading for these guys that can help us win at the big league level."

Let’s take a look around the Nationals' Minor League affiliates:

Double-A Harrisburg
Right-hander Marquis Grissom Jr. (No. 29 prospect) was promoted from High-A Wilmington to Double-A on Thursday. The reliever is 2-1 with four saves and a 1.19 ERA in 22 2/3 innings this season.

High-A Wilmington
In his first three games of June, outfielder Jeremy De La Rosa (No. 24 prospect) has recorded six hits, including three doubles and two home runs, with nine RBIs. The lefty hitter is batting .314 with a 1.010 OPS through 22 games this season.

Single-A Fredericksburg
Right-hander Jarlin Susana (No. 10 prospect) threw five scoreless innings with nine strikeouts in his most recent start on Friday. He limited the Wood Ducks to one hit and one walk across 62 pitches.

How Herz got the call to the Major Leagues (2024)

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