SAN FRANCISCO – The conundrum that is Felix Hernandez in the post “King Felix” era continues to baffle the Mariners and frustrate fans.
Who is he?
What can the Mariners expect from start to start?
Does anyone, including Hernandez, really know anymore?
Any of the optimism from his shortened but efficient outing on opening day is now gone following his abysmal showing in a 10-1 pasting by the Giants on Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Park.
In a fitting end to a forgettable performance that featured no command and only minimal control of his pitches, Hernandez served up an 89 mph fastball that Pablo Sandoval, who was at one time a dangerous hitter, hammered over the wall in right and into McCovey Cove to give the Giants an 8-0 lead. Hernandez stood and watched the small comet disappear and then turned and looked at the visitor’s dugout, awaiting the visit from manager Scott Servais that he knew was coming.
“I was trying to go inside and it just stayed over the middle,” Hernandez said.
His day was done. He’d failed to get an out in the fifth inning. He was credited with four innings pitched and saddled with eight earned runs on six hits with five walks and one strikeout while serving up three home runs.
“Zero command with my fastball and I fell behind most of the time,” Hernandez said. “If you fall behind and you have to come down the middle, you are going to get hurt. They make you pay.”
The velocity on his fastball was also down a few ticks to 89-90 mph.
“No concern,” Servais said. “It was mechanical. When you are rushing and your arm is dragging behind, it’s hard to drive the ball downhill. More than anything it’s mechanical.”
In terms of his bad performances in his career, this ranked pretty high. It was the 15th time in his career that Hernandez had walked five or more batters in a game, and first time since July 28, 2016, vs. the Indians.
Compare this outing to the previous one in which he pitched 5 1/3 shutout innings, allowing two hits with two walks and four strikeouts despite pitching in just three games during spring training.
“It was the absolute extreme from what we saw opening night,” Servais said. “Felix is a pro. Things like getting into his curveball and some of the things we saw him do on opening night, he didn’t do tonight. He needs to get back to using all of his pitches and sequencing them up the right way. It just didn’t happen tonight.”
So what can Mariners fans expect in start No. 3 on Monday in Kansas City. Perhaps the real Hernandez going forward sits between those two bookends – not dominant and not awful. The Mariners would take simply being competitive. You could point to the abbreviated spring training because of the forearm injury as a reason for the mechanical inconsistencies from one start to the next. But this is something that Hernandez dealt with the better part of three seasons when he’s been healthy enough to take the mound. The Mariners made some slight tweaks this spring that Hernandez decided to embrace. But it’s clear that he’s still trying to figure out some level of consistency with them.
It was evident from early in this outing that Hernandez was fighting himself, his mechanics and the path of the baseball.
“You aren’t going to believe me, but I was dealing in the bullpen before the game,” Hernandez said. “I was feeling really good. I was down in the zone. Usually, when you have a bullpen like that, it’s going to be a bad game.”
Hernandez’s sinker was all over the place, showing a little too much movement. He couldn’t figure out how to land it for a strike, and that led to other issues.
“If I don’t locate my fastball, my other pitches, my breaking balls and change-up aren’t going to do the job they are supposed to do,” he said.
He walked Joe Panik to start the game and then allowed a single to Brandon Belt and a check-swing infield single to Buster Posey to load the bases for Sandoval, who came into the game having homered twice in eight at-bats against Hernandez. The free-swinging Sandoval never saw a pitch close enough at which to swing, which seems impossible, and walked on four pitches to force a run across. Hernandez threw a wild pitch to score a run and allowed a sacrifice fly to score a run and make it 3-0.
It only got worse. He issued a solo homer to Gorkys Hernandez in the second inning and had two scoreless innings in the third and fourth before falling apart in the fifth.
Meanwhile, the Mariners’ offense, which had been productive, wasn’t exactly keeping pace with the Giants’ production. Seattle put plenty of runners on base against starter Johnny Cueto and the relievers that followed, but failed to get the big hit. Seattle tallied nine hits, but went just 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 runners on base.
Seattle’s bullpen also joined in the fun by allowing two runs after Hernandez exited the game. But lefty Wade LeBlanc did eat up three innings in relief to spare the rest of the bullpen.
Daniel Vogelbach provided Seattle’s only run with an RBI double to left field to make it 9-1.
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