ST. PETERSBURG - He threw strikes, got outs on ground balls and gave his team a chance to win, which is everything the Tampa Bay Rays wanted from Roberto Hernandez when they signed him as a free agent in the offseason.
Even so, he could have made his last start for a while.
Hernandez, who appears to be the odd man out when the Rays go to a four-man rotation for the first half of August, turned in one of his best start of the season Tuesday, throwing his first complete game since 2010 in the Rays' 5-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Tropicana Field in a game delayed 20 minutes in the bottom of the second inning because of a lightning strike at a nearby substation.
Hernandez is the fourth Rays pitcher to throw a complete game since July 22 and came within one out of a shutout. But Eric Chavez ruined that with a two-out, two-run home run in the ninth inning.
"That's what you're looking for," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He puts the ball on the ground. We've got to be in the right spots, and if we're in the right spots this guy is going to pitch a lot of games like that."
But maybe not until after the Rays get through their stretch of five off days in the first 22 days of August.
When asked if Hernandez's performance could alter the plans, Maddon said, "No, we're still thinking different things."
The Rays have yet to set their rotation for the weekend series with the Giants. Maddon said he will announce that before the Rays finish this two-game series tonight with the Diamondbacks.
Hernandez allowed five hits and struck out six Tuesday. He got 14 outs on groundballs.
"There were times when he threw the ball better (this season) but not with the same results that we wanted," catcher Jose Molina said. "(Tuesday) was really, really special because of the results."
The win enabled the Rays to maintain their half-game lead on second-place Boston. It also proved the Rays were not going to fall victim to a letdown after returning from an emotional 10-game road trip that opened the second half of the season with eight wins against divisional opponents.
The Rays played their first game at the Trop after the All-Star Break, their first there in 16 days overall. They were fresh off a road trip that saw them overtake the Red Sox for the division lead.
And local fans responded. The crowd of 17,402 was the largest to see the Rays play a Tuesday night game this season at the Trop.
"We're doing everything we need to do," said Wil Myers, who extended his hitting streak to 11 games. "We're pitching well, we're hitting well, we're getting timely hitting. Our bullpen is coming in and shutting the door.
"Right now it's just a lot of fun here."
Hernandez, who said he's not thinking about any changes that might take place within the rotation, threw the Rays' seventh complete game this month.
"I feel very great," Hernandez said. "I'm trying to throw a complete game."
Those seven complete games came during a 19-game span and are more than any other team in baseball has all season.
The last team with seven complete games in a calendar month was the Phillies, who did it in May 1999.
The Rays extended their interleague winning streak to nine games. Their 10-1 mark in interleague play is the best in the majors.
The Rays also improved to 21-4 in July, clinching the best record for any month in franchise history. The 2008 team was 21-7 in August and the 2004 Devil Rays were 20-4 in June.
Their record this month is the best for any major league team in July since the 1941 Yankees were 25-4.
The Rays have also won 11 of their last 13 and are 23-4 since June 29. The last team to win 23 games in a 27-game stretch was the 2005 A's.
Hernandez, whose 11 losses are tied with R.A. Dickey of the Blue Jays for the second most in the American League, has pitched better than his record would indicate. A lack of run support has not helped. The Rays scored only five total runs in Hernandez's last four losses.
But they gave him runs Tuesday, beginning with two in the first inning.
Desmond Jennings started things off by turning a single to left-center field into a double, and Ben Zobrist sent him home with an RBO single. Zobrist was erased when Evan Longoria grounded into a force out, but James Loney doubled to right-center field and Longoria scored all way from first to give the Rays a 2-0 lead.
Yunel Escobar drove in the next two runs with his eighth home run of the season in the fourth inning and a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
The Rays made it 5-0 in the eighth when Molina scored from third on a double by Zobrist.