By Shannon Drayer
The roller coaster ride continues. I am not going to lie. I was pretty happy that my off days fell when they did. I needed a break from what I was seeing on the field. Unfortunately I don’t have a Larry Stone, Ryan Divish or a plethora of MLB.com writers to take my place when I have off time so there was no new content this weekend. I am glad, however, now that I am back the story is a bit different from before I took off.
In other words, whew. This year has been tough to cover in many different ways. The travel has been ridiculous. I have made every road trip and can tell you that I have felt the effects of the travel more so this year than any of the past 10 I have followed the team. I am not complaining. I enjoy my job and the travel is what it is, but make no mistake, it has been different.
The biggest struggle for me this year hasn’t been the travel, however. It’s been the roller coaster. I have covered some pretty bad seasons in the past but a few of the losing streaks this team has had this year have been particularly disappointing because my expectations are different. I expect that this young team is going to turn a corner at some point and we will start to see their play even out. We will see shorter losing streaks. There have been two times this season when I thought that they were going in that direction, turning not necessarily the corner but a corner that would get them closer. Coming off the last road trip I felt that. That was good, that was fun. Turned out it was one step forward, one step back.
Now the team is back on the road and we will see if they can continue their road ways and if some key guys can break out of slumps. We still don’t have answers for their home struggles and until we see progress at Safeco Field we will remain on this side of the corner. I think we did see a major positive on Sunday, though, and it had nothing to do with the offense. I am talking about Felix of course.
Felix looked like Felix. From start to finish, even in the 29-pitch first inning his stuff looked sharper. He had nasty movement, a slight increase in velocity — which I will be interested to see whether he has on the road gun — and the return of the bravado that has been missing for the last month.
Felix was relieved to see that he had command of his fastball, something that has been problematic for him in the last month. He has made one small change to his delivery, he told us, starting straight to home plate rather than a bit to the side. Carl Willis told him to try this after noting that there were times when he was going too far back with his twist.
Felix is not sure if this adjustment was solely responsible for the improved command but said that he was comfortable with it. He also told me that he felt he was using his legs a bit more after seeing something on the video after his Anaheim start. He was pleased with the results but pointed out that it was only one start.
“My arm, my body feels pretty good and I feel life on the fastball,” he said. “This is only one, I have got to be more consistent, that is what I have got to do. I know they (his teammates) believe in me and think I am going to dominate every time, that is what I have got to do.”
Sunday looked to be a step in the right direction.
One last Felix story: About an hour and a half before the start of the game there was a bit of a stir in the clubhouse as various staff and teammates tried to get him to come out to the dugout for a minute. Felix is not only big into his routine but he is also very superstitious so he was refusing to leave the clubhouse. He had no idea why he was needed outside.
His wife had hired a plane to circle the stadium with a banner that read, “King34 you are the best dad ever we (heart) U.”
Good friend Franklin Gutierrez was enlisted to help get him outside and when he saw the sign Felix had to hold back the tears.
“My eyes were watering. I almost cried,” he said hours later, still with emotion in his voice. “I wasn’t going to do it because there are guys in here, they would talk bad of me, so I am like don’t do it! No! Be tough! That was amazing. I really appreciate my wife for that.”
Felix was clearly moved by the surprise. So much so that he was late coming out for his warmup. I was in the dugout for the pregame show and noticed this. He comes out at exactly the same time before every start but today, no Felix.
Miguel Olivo, Jason Phillips and Carl Willis were all in the outfield waiting to warm him up but 10 minutes passed before he finally came out. I wasn’t sure what was going on, if there was a problem or perhaps he had a new routine. No, it was something else.
“I was sitting right here,” he said at is locker. “Really, did she really do this? I was just thinking. I was just thinking.”
A good day all round for Felix.