Photo: Jon Wells
Felix Abraham Hernández Garcia
Height: 6'3" Weight: 225
Bats/Throws: Right / Right
Born: 04/08/1986 in Valencia, Venezuela
Offseason home: Miami, Florida & Bellevue, Washington
Nickname: The King
Family: Wife Sandra, daughter Mia, son Jeremy, dogs Oreo and King
Acquired: Signed as a non-drafted international free agent (07/04/2002)
MLB Debut: 08/04/2005
Free Agent after: 2019 season
Twitter handle: @RealKingFelix
This was what we had to say about Felix Hernández when the season began:
The King is past his prime. You know it, I know it, the American people know it, but Felix Hernández doesn't know it. "I’m still King Felix," he declared this spring. And there's no denying he still deserves the nickname—he is, after all, the Mariners' leader in just about every pitching category there is: Most wins? Felix. Most strikeouts? Felix. Innings pitched? Games started? Quality starts? All Felix. He is undoubtedly Seattle royalty. But all those innings have taken a toll and The King has spent a lot of time being tended to by his royal medical staff in recent years. In addition to the DL stints—two months in 2016 with a calf injury, two months last year with shoulder inflammation, six weeks later last year with bursitis—there have been the nagging "little things." Strained groin. Tendinitis. Dead-arm fatigue. This spring he was hit in the arm by a line drive, causing a forearm contusion that derailed his preparation for the season. Now, line-drives to the forearm are not something one can blame on age, but recovery time can be, and it seems foolish to expect a full season out of Hernández this year. He'll come back from the contusion issue, sure, but something else will likely befall him at some point this summer. “If he gives us 30 starts, we’re in great shape as a team,’’ manager Scott Servais said. Well, sure, but that's a big "if."
It took two-thirds of the season to pass and giving up 5+ runs in one-third of his starts for it to happen, but Felix finally knows what you and I and the American people knew: He cannot pitch the way he used to pitch. He has not succumbed to injury, as we feared in March, just inevitable decline from age. To be successful going forward, The King must learn a new way, one that relies on command instead of power, on pitching to contact instead of answering the chants of "K! K!" from the King's Court. And until he does, manager Scott Servais has decided that Felix will serve as a reliever.
It says a lot about Felix's talent that he's done as well as he has this year trying to be the Felix of old. To date he's made 23 starts, a few of them solid games. June 1st saw him win a 2-1 decision in Tampa Bay with eight strong innings, walking one and striking out seven. On June 14th he took a loss, but had pitched seven frames against the Red Sox, allowing just a single earned run and K-ing six. His next start was a no-decision in New York, but again just one earned run. But those have been the exceptions.
Following his second game of the season (the first was a fine effort of five-and-a-third shutout innings against Cleveland on Opening Day), Felix's ERA has ranged from a high of 7.71 to a low point of just 4.89, and has been below 5.00 for only a brief span between April 21st and May 5th. He's been positively hammered in seven starts (though to be fair, in a couple of them he was left out there to take a beating well after a manager with decent pitching instincts would have pulled him), and his road numbers in particular are just brutal (4-5, 7.90 ERA, .299/.375/.518 batting line against while away from Safeco Field). So, after two August starts (one OK, one not), The King has been moved to the bullpen.
It's anybody's guess how he'll do in a relief role. Maybe the shorter stints will allow him to focus better. Maybe the move will show him there are other ways to be great. Maybe nothing will improve at all. But at the very least it should drive home the point that he needs to change. Age catches up with us all, and we all have the same two choices when it does: adapt or fail.