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Rays

Dominican players do whatever it takes

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Published:   |   Updated: March 4, 2013 at 04:29 PM
PORT CHARLOTTE -

It has been more than a week since they were reunited as teammates, and Chris Gimenez is still not sure what to call the pitcher he once knew as Fausto Carmona during their days together in Cleveland.

Jamey Wright, another ex-Cleveland Indian in the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse, quickly found a solution.

“I just call him, ‘you,’ as in, ‘Hey, you,’” Wright said.

For 11 seasons, Fausto Carmona was a pitcher in the Indians organization. He reached the big leagues in 2006 and won 19 games in 2007.

In January of 2012, while trying to obtain a visa, Carmona was arrested outside the U.S. Consulate in his native Dominican Republic. He was charged with using a false identity.

Carmona’s real name, it was learned, is Roberto Hernandez.

His real age, it was learned, was 31, making him three years older than he claimed.

Hernandez was one of a number of Dominican players who have been caught falsifying their names or ages. Three of those players are members of the Rays — pitcher Juan Carlos Oviedo, formerly known as Leo Nunez, and pitcher Joel Peralta, who falsified his birth certificate when he was 20 to make him four years younger and more attractive to big-league scouts.

“I wish I never had to do that, but if I didn’t do it I wouldn’t be here,” Peralta said.

But that was Peralta’s only way of signing a contract with a major-league team. Big-league scouts, Peralta said, do not have any interest in 20-year-old pitchers in the Dominican.

“This is the problem, and why we used to do that is that we don’t have the chance after you turn 18, 19 years old to become a professional ballplayer,” Peralta said. “The chance that the guys here in the United States get, they can be drafted when they’re 22, they get a chance to play pro ball. We don’t have that. The only chance when you’re 20, like I was, to sign was the lie about your age.”

The charges against Hernandez were dropped, but he was placed on the Indians’ inactive list while the matter was sorted out. He eventually served a three-week suspension.

The Indians restructured his contract from $7 million for 2012 to just under $3 million. He pitched three games for the Indians, losing all three, and had his season end because of an ankle injury.

He was released by the Indians after the season and signed with the Rays in December for $3.25 million plus incentives that will pay him another $1.25 million based on innings pitched or $600,000 based on relief appearances.

Hernandez didn’t provide much in the way of an answer when asked early in camp if his identity issue led to his release from the Indians. He later declined to talk about the incident.

The Rays are not sure what role Hernandez will play this season. He spent most of his career as a starter, yet he provides an interesting piece to the bullpen as a long reliever.

What the Rays do know is Hernandez’s legal troubles, as well as those of Oviedo (who will miss most of this season because of elbow surgery), have nothing to do with their future in Tampa Bay.

“I don’t think there’s necessarily any correlation with a guy having bad makeup and going through an age-identity issue in the Dominican,” Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “Any player that we bring into this organization, we do a tremendous amount of work on their makeup and who they are. That for us is the overriding factor, on top of the talent, on whether we bring someone in. If we feel like someone will fit in well within our culture and help us win games, that’s where our focus is.”

Peralta is proof of that.

“I don’t care what (Hernandez’s) real name is,” Gimenez said. “I know him for what he is. He’s a good guy, a good clubhouse guy.”

Gimenez was asked if he could understand why a player in the Dominican would falsify his age or change his identity for the chance to play pro ball. He answered with one word: “Absolutely.”

Rays manager Joe Maddon said he has never discussed it with Hernandez in any talks they’ve had this spring.

“I have no idea what that has to do with the price of tea anywhere,” Maddon said. “It’s over with, and I think he’s moved on well.”

Peralta said major-league scouts were not blind to what was going on in the Dominican. He was in the Angels organization preparing for a season at Double A when team officials learned he had presented them with a fake birth certificate. Peralta said little happened other than his age was changed in the media guide.

“If the only chance that you can become a ballplayer, knowing that you got a chance to become a big-league player and help yourself and your family to a better life and that’s the only way and you’re not killing anybody, would you do it? Who wouldn’t?” Peralta said. “Knowing you got a chance to become a big-leaguer and be rich and help you’re family, who wouldn’t do it? Because people are going to criticize you and say you’re a liar later? That’s the only way, so that’s what we did.”


rmooney@tampatrib.com

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