O’Neil: Now it’s Felix’s turn to prove Mariners right for opening day nod
Your turn, Felix.
You’re still the Mariners’ opening day starter, still billed as the staff’s ace for the 10th consecutive season.
And when you take the mound on Thursday at Safeco Field, it’s your turn to fulfill this team’s faith in you, something that goes much deeper than any single turn in the rotation no matter how symbolically significant that is.
This season is Felix Hernandez’s turn to show whether he’s still got some greatness left in that right arm that has already given us so much. And honestly, after the last two injury-pocked seasons, we’d settle for anything resembling good out of Hernandez’s arm.
He is the best pitcher in this franchise’s history. Most wins. Most strikeouts. Not only that, but he has been the single best thing about this team in the 13 years since he was summoned to the major leagues as a 19-year-old phenom.
The Mariners also haven’t made the postseason in that time. That’s a failure of the franchise in general and certainly not Hernandez specifically, but if the longest postseason drought in baseball is going to end, Felix will need to have a hand in that. Well, actually it’s going to need to be his arm.
And for his first 10 years in town, that arm was more than enough. It earned him one Cy Young Award, put him on the cusp of a second and was responsible for the first perfect game in this franchise’s history.
He’s 31 now. He’ll turn 32 next month. His velocity is down, but that has been the case for the past three or four years.
This isn’t a case of how much Hernandez has left, but how well he can use it. His arm no longer gives him the prohibitive advantage he enjoyed on the mound as recently as 2014.
He has been vulnerable to injuries the past two seasons, first to his leg and last year his arm.
He is no longer Seattle’s best pitcher. At least he wasn’t last year as James Paxton was more effective in just about every measurement.
But Felix Hernandez is still Seattle’s opening day starter, and on Thursday against Cleveland, it’s his turn to show that he’s still capable of filling that role.