Rowland-Smith: Félix Hernández made a key shift in Sunday’s win
Things probably couldn’t have been much worse for Félix Hernández after his May 29 start. His ERA sat at 5.83, and the Mariners’ 9-5 loss to Texas ended a four-game winning streak and was just the team’s second loss in 11 games. Oh, and the starting pitcher in that other loss? Also Félix Hernández.
On Sunday, Félix wasn’t about to see the M’s lose for the third straight time in one of his starts.
He threw a 106 pitches to go eight innings (both season-highs), allowing just one run on five hits and a walk while striking out seven in the 2-1 win over the Rays.
Ryan Rowland-Smith, 710 ESPN Seattle and ROOT Mariners analyst and Félix’s former teammate, saw something different from the 13-year veteran.
“I think yesterday, there was that shift,” Rowland-Smith said on Brock and Salk. “… What I noticed yesterday was just the complete focus on next pitch. Félix, the last couple outings when you watched him, the thoughts would get into his head, that doubt would start to seep in, and all of the sudden the tempo changes. He would start to walk around the mound, he’s looking up into the upper decks in left-center. That doubt comes in, that disappointment.
“Yesterday, right back on it.”
There was much made about a new approach Félix needed to adapt to heading into this season, and while there was a semblance of that in Sunday’s outing, Rowland-Smith said he saw more of a compromise between the one-time Cy Young Award winner and Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.
“The problem I found was the front office, coaching staff were taking away what makes Félix so good. Having a couple conversations with Mel over the homestand, I think they found some middle ground,” he said. “They talked about him using his curveball and changeup more often – what message does that send to Félix? That says, ‘Look, your stuff is not the same as what it was when you were Félix Hernández, when you were the King.’ Basically taking that away from him.
“… I think the conversations have changed a little bit with Mel, maybe bonded a little bit, found something. Talking about watching videos of 2013, 2014, I love that, and I think there’s that good combination now where he can change his approach a little bit but still be aggressive and still be what makes him so good.”
So a more aggressive Félix took the mound against Tampa Bay. Only it wasn’t his fastball that he was relying on to go after hitters, but instead more of his tough changeup.
“He threw that changeup, it didn’t matter what the count was. He was in some serious jams, and boom, right back at it.
“That attack mode and that confidence, and saying, ‘This pitch is nasty. I’m going to attack with this pitch in any count,’ and it was fun to watch.”
You can find the full segment with Rowland-Smith in this podcast of Monday’s Brock and Salk.