BALTIMORE -- The topic of who would be the Orioles' closer had been a running joke for a few days. Interim manager Juan Samuel would respond to questions about it with quips about the team's lack of save opportunities. But before Thursday's game against the Yankees, a 4-3 win, he said that if Baltimore did get to a save chance, then David Hernandez would be the closer.
Well, after highly touted rookie Jake Arrieta turned in a quality start in his Major League debut, the O's entered the ninth inning with a one-run lead, and Hernandez jogged out of the bullpen. He faced four batters and used 13 pitches to notch his first career save and the Birds' first since May 21.
Hernandez became the fifth Oriole to record a save this season, joining Michael Gonzalez, Jim Johnson, Cla Meredith and Alfredo Simon.
"There were a lot of things going through my mind, especially when I was running out," Hernandez said. "It's definitely a tough lineup to get a save against. It was all euphoric, that's what it was.
"It's always good to do well against a team like that. They're a team that knows how to win."
"This is something new for him, but he seems to keep his cool, keep his poise," Samuel added. "It is not an easy task coming into the ninth inning in a close ballgame for a young pitcher. He did hold his own, and it was nice to see."
After earning the fifth-starter spot in Spring Training, the 25-year-old righty was switched to relief on May 25 to replenish an injury-riddled bullpen. He wasn't thrilled with the move, saying a few days later that he preferred having the ball "in tough situations with the game on the line" rather than the long-relief role in which he started.
"Hopefully, sometime in the future, I get a chance to do something else," he said.
Now that that time has come, he relishes his new position.
"I've always said that I would like to be able to be a starter, but it's wherever I have the most success that makes sense," he said. "I didn't think I was going to get thrust into the closer's role this soon."
With former closer Simon expected to come off the disabled list next week, Hernandez won't be handling ninth-inning duties for long. Samuel said that Simon will be the closer when he comes back, but he is glad to have Hernandez as a reliable alternative on nights when Simon needs to rest.
"I think it's a little bit early," Samuel said of Hernandez's potential future as a closer. "We'll see what our needs are and go from there and see how these guys progress in the roles they're in."
For now, Hernandez is just soaking in the success.
"That probably ranks up there with my Major League debut," he said.
Noah Rosenstein is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.