Photo: Jon Wells
Felix Abraham Hernández Garcia
Height: 6'3" Weight: 217
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: Claimed on waivers from the 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 before last season opened:
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."
Injuries weren't last year's issue, it was just the plain fact that Felix is no longer the Felix of old. At 33 he isn't exactly over the hill, but there's no getting around the 13+ years of Major League pitching on his odometer, even if the wear and tear doesn't manifest with stints on the DL (or "IL," as I guess we have to get used to calling it).
He did turn in 28 starts in 2018, but only seven made the cut as quality starts and he only exceeded six innings twice. In total he went 8-14 with truly ugly ERA and WHIP numbers: 5.55 and 1.400, respectively. You might think that would drive home the thing that you and I and the American people all knew already, that The King needs to change his approach if he's to remain successful. But apparently that isn't the case.
For the first time in 11 years, Hernández is not the Mariners' Opening Day starter, and rather than accept that gracefully as he adapts to a new approach, he moped about it. When questioned about changing his ways or the decline in his effectiveness on the mound, he insists he's still the same King he always was and he just needs "to make my pitches." He wasn't surprised to be demoted to fifth starter, but he's made no bones about his unhappiness about it. One interpretation of Felix's spring comments is that they're resentful, that his ego still demands he be the ace and he's upset with Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto for denying him that role. Another is that he's right there with his fans, unhappy with the fact of his decline and embarrassed at not having put in the work to reinvent himself as a pitcher only to find himself hanging on by a thread.
If it's more the latter, there's hope—Felix may, however belatedly, start to adjust and make an effort to become The King 2.0, with more finesse and ground-balls than power and strikeouts. If more the former...well, then we can look forward to mediocre fastballs that get walloped over the fences and three- and four-inning starts that strain the bullpen, not to mention an unpleasant parting of the ways after (or even during) the season.