Beloved teammate Hernandez relishes Cleveland visit

Righty spent seven seasons with Indians before joining Rays in 2013

Beloved teammate Hernandez relishes Cleveland visit

CLEVELAND -- Roberto Hernandez went through quite a few ups and downs during his seven years in Cleveland.

When he returned to Progressive Field on Friday for the first time since joining the Rays over the winter, he did so quietly and unceremoniously.

Not to mention, the big right-hander got lost on his way to the visitors' clubhouse.

During his first full season as a starter with the Indians in 2007, Hernandez finished fourth in the balloting for the American League Cy Young Award and the Indians advanced to the AL Championship Series.

"That was the best time," Hernandez said. "I had a good time after that, too, but some things were bad, and some things were good."

Hernandez is referring to struggles both on the mound and off the field. He went a combined 13-19 with a 5.89 ERA in 2008-09, and after an All-Star season in 2010, he posted a 7-15 mark and a 5.25 ERA in 2011.

In January 2012, he was arrested in his native Dominican Republic for falsifying his identity. It was revealed that his name wasn't "Fausto Carmona," the moniker he had gone by since the Indians signed him in 2000, and that he was actually three years older than the organization thought.

He didn't return to the United States until July 2012, when he served a three-week suspension from baseball. He rejoined the Indians in August and made three starts for the club that season. On Aug. 30, Hernandez's teammates celebrated the pitcher's birthday with three cakes to poke fun at the birthdays he had "missed" when his true age was discovered.

"My best memory of Bob is that he's just a great dude," said Indians pitcher Justin Masterson. "No matter what you did, for my ability to make fun of him by bringing in three cakes and stuff like that, he just wears it like a champ. He got into a situation that was unfortunate for all, but you go down to his heart and soul, and he's just a quality guy. That's why he was one of my favorite teammates."

The occasion that many Indians fans -- and Hernandez's teammates -- remember is the hurler's performance in Game 2 of the 2007 AL Division Series against the Yankees. Swarms of midges pestered players on both sides, yet Hernandez maintained his composure to toss nine stellar innings, as he limited New York to one run on three hits before the Tribe won in 10 frames.

"I remember him eating [the midges]. That was our joke," Masterson said. "It was hurting [Yankees pitcher] Joba [Chamberlain], but [Hernandez] was like, 'I'll just eat some of them. Get out of my way.' So they were actually scared of him, so they didn't get on him as much."

Hernandez said he still keeps in touch with some of the Indians players and clubhouse attendants. Even though he didn't get to face his former team this series, he was pleased to return to the city he called home for seven years.

"I was very happy to play here in Cleveland," Hernandez said. "It was nice to see some people this weekend."

Zack Meisel is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @zackmeisel. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.