"It feels good," Hernandez said. "I focused on throwing strikes, keeping the ball down and getting [the] ground ball. I tried not to overthrow [it]."
It was Hernandez's first start since returning to the U.S. last Sunday. The 31-year-old spent six months in his native Dominican Republic after being arrested on Jan. 19 for using a false name. He's serving a three-week suspension issued by Major League Baseball, and he is eligible to return to the Indians' roster on Aug. 11.
"He looked strong," said Lake County manager David Wallace. "He seemed to get better as the game went on. I'm happy for him to be on the road back to Cleveland."
Hernandez addressed the media afterward with a smile that never left his face. After 10 months he was finally back on the mound for the organization.
"I'm happy," he said. "The second opportunity is here. I'm very, very happy."
The majority of Hernandez's struggles on Thursday night came in the first inning. After Hernandez induced consecutive groundouts to begin the game, West Michigan's Eugenio Suarez reached on an error, and Hernandez gave up a two-run homer to Aaron Westlake that soared over the 400-foot fence in center field. Both runs were unearned because of the error.
"Sinker," Hernandez said of the pitch Westlake blasted. "No movement, nothing. [It] was over the plate."
Hernandez gave up at least one hit in each of his five innings, but he minimized the damage by using his sinker to get ground balls. West Michigan -- a Tigers affiliate -- had eight groundouts and two flyouts against Hernandez.
"In the first inning, the ball was a little bit up," Hernandez said. "But after that I threw strikes."
Hernandez hovered between 89 mph and 91 mph for much of the night, but his velocity fell off a bit in his final two frames, when he didn't throw faster than 86 mph. He topped out at 93 mph on one pitch in the first inning.
Despite the loss in velocity, Hernandez had more sinking action on his fastball in the fourth and fifth innings.
Westlake said that Hernandez's pitches had a lot of cutting action.
"Early in the game, he wasn't as sharp as the last two innings," said West Michigan manager Ernie Young, a teammate of Hernandez's in 2004 with the Indians. "His fastball had a little more life in that fourth and fifth inning than it did in the first two innings. He threw fewer changeups and sliders late in the game."
Hernandez will throw a bullpen session at Classic Park on Saturday. It has not yet been determined where or when his next start will be.
Justin Albers is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.