Hernandez, who is trying to recover from a foot injury that required surgery at the end of the 2007 season, agreed to a Minor League contract with the Rangers on Thursday. He will report to Triple-A Oklahoma City on Sunday.
"He was somebody we looked into during the offseason, but he was still rehabbing," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "Our scout in south Florida, Juan Alvarez, has a relationship with him and has seen him throw a few times and liked what he saw. He's healthy, he's motivated, and he's in good shape. It's an opportunity we wanted to give him. He wants to show he can still pitch."
Hernandez could be used as a starter or a reliever. He has been a starter for most of his career but there are reports that he would like to come back as a reliever, possibly as a closer. His brother Livan told the Bergen Record before the season that Orlando wants to continue pitching as a reliever.
"We're going to build him up as starter but he could be an option in the bullpen," Daniels said.
Hernandez, who is listed as being 39 years old, has a career record of 90-65 with a 4.13 ERA in nine Major League seasons. He was once a star pitcher in Cuba before defecting in 1998 and signing with the New York Yankees. He was a big part of the Yankees' rotation when they won three straight World Series in 1998-2000, and he has a career postseason record of 9-3 with a 2.55 ERA in 19 games, including 14 starts.
"He brings experience," manager Ron Washington said. "He knows how to win. He's been in many winning situations. We know he can pitch. We're sending him to Oklahoma City, get him acclimated and give us some depth. You never know what will happen."
Hernandez will not be with the Rangers anytime soon. He has been throwing in Miami but has not pitched in a game at all this year. He'll throw at least one side bullpen session and one batting-practice session with Oklahoma City before he gets into a game. From there, it will be a matter of building arm strength and durability, and that could take at least a month.
The best-case scenario is Hernandez could be an option at some point after the All-Star break.
"If he goes down there and can be successful, we'll find a way to get him up here," Washington said.
The Rangers have been looking for some pitching depth with Brandon McCarthy and Matt Harrison on the disabled list. They have not spoken to the agent for Pedro Martinez in at least a month, and Daniels said he doesn't see Tom Glavine as "being a fit" for the Rangers. There are no indications either that Ben Sheets is anywhere close to being ready to pitch or if he will pitch at all this season.
Hernandez last pitched in the Major Leagues in 2007 when he went 9-5 with a 3.72 ERA in 27 games, including 24 starts, for the Mets. He has had at least two operations on his right foot since then and made just four starts in the Mets' Minor League system last year.
There is no telling what he might have left, either as a starter or a reliever.
"I couldn't be more excited," Rangers third baseman Michael Young said. "I love the guy. He has nerves of steel. Everybody who knows the guy knows he's a great competitor. He's pitched in big games and played for great teams. He would obviously be a huge addition to any team."