Nationally-Recognized, Quality Local Journalism..

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to the Mountain State’s Trusted News Source.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.

Learn more about HD Media


Arnaldo Hernandez has been tabbed by Charleston Dirty Birds manager Mark Minicozzi to pitch Monday’s opening game of the best-of-three Atlantic League South Division playoff series against Lexington.

In 25 head-to-head Atlantic League regular-season games between the Charleston Dirty Birds and the Lexington Legends, the teams have combined to score an average of 14 runs per game.

Lexington has outscored Charleston 179-173 in those 25 games, with each team averaging about seven runs per contest. That’s a lot of runs, even in the offense-heavy Atlantic League.

Despite that, Dirty Birds manager Mark Minicozzi believes his team’s pitching will be the difference when Charleston and Lexington meet in their best-of-three South Division playoff series, which starts at 6:05 p.m. Monday at Appalachian Power Park.

“Our strength is pitching,” Minicozzi said. “I like our front-line starters, and we’ve got 11 arms in the bullpen and all have been very effective over the last five or six weeks.”

The Dirty Birds and Legends are quite familiar with each other, with Charleston holding a 14-11 lead over Lexington in the season series, including a 7-6 mark in games at Appalachian Power Park.

One Dirty Birds pitcher with whom the Legends are not familiar, though, is Arnaldo Hernandez, who’ll get the starting assignment in Monday’s playoff opener.

Hernandez, a 25-year-old right-hander from Venezuela, was a late-season pickup by Charleston out of the Mexican League and is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA in three starts since joining the Dirty Birds rotation. Hernandez has recorded 23 strikeouts in 14 innings.

Hernandez has been sharp in all three of his starts. He broke in with a four-inning stint against Gastonia on Sept. 23 in which he allowd two runs and struck out seven. Hernandez threw five shutout innings, allowing just two hits and fanning seven, against Long Island on Sept. 29, and his most recent outing was a five-inning no-decision with three runs allowed and nine strikeouts at York this past Tuesday.

“Not many guys in this league throw like him with his combination of speed and movement,” Minicozzi said of Hernandez, who reached as high as Class AAA in the Kansas City Royals organization. “I’m happy to see Hernandez starting the first game, because [the Legends] haven’t seen him.”

Minnicozzi said he’ll give the ball to right-hander Arik Sikula (11-7, 4.35) in Game Two Tuesday at Lexington. If a third game is needed, Minicozzi said he’ll probably go with right-hander Elih Villanueva (4-4, 4.39).

Minicozzi added that Joe Testa (5-4, 5.76) and Max Povse (1-1, 5.06), who have been in the starting rotation during Charleston’s playoff push in late September and October, will be coming out of the bullpen against Lexington. They’ll bolster a bullpen led by closer Max Broadway (3-2, 2.36, team-high 14 saves) and Junior Rincon (6-0, 2.57).

Charleston pitchers will be facing a Lexington lineup that has been the Atlantic League’s best in 2021.

The Legends lead the league in runs (880, 7.5 per game), home runs (203 in 118 games), batting average (.294), on-base percentage (.390) and slugging percentage (.511).

“They’re a great team with a powerful lineup,” Minicozzi said of the Legends. “They can do damage all throughout the lineup.”

Lexington’s powerful lineup is led by outfielder Courtney Hawkins, who leads the Legends with 32 home runs in just 89 games and is hitting .332.

“He’s a guy who does damage, a guy who we’ll definitely make sure he’s not the one to beat us,” Minicozzi said.

Lexington has other weapons, though, like Tillman Pugh (.326, 26 home runs, 107 RBIs), Roberto Baldequin (.356 batting average) and Ben Aklinski (.290, 27 home runs, 103 RBIs).

Nick Scala is the sports editor. He can be reached at 304-348-7947 or Follow him on Twitter @nick_scala319.