McClendon has no plans to let Felix go deeper in games
HOUSTON – When Lloyd McClendon pulled Felix Hernandez after seven innings and 97 pitches in the game against Anaheim Thursday night, there were some raised eyebrows and angry Tweets from those who haven’t quite got the message: Complete games mean little to Seattle’s manager. Wins and protecting his pitcher are his top priority.
Could this change going forward? I asked McClendon in his daily meeting with the media if he could see himself leaving Felix in a game at 115-120 pitches the remainder of the year.
“It won’t happen, no,” he answered. “We manage for September, we then manage for October, but I am also managing for the future and he is compiling some innings and he’s compiling some strikeouts.
“What’s the use? What’s the point when he pitched nine innings? Big deal. What does it mean? The most important thing is you win the game. Why would you stress a pitcher to go 115, 120, 125 pitches to say, ‘Well he pitched nine innings,’ when you have got the best bullpen in baseball? I just can’t see it.”
Could he see a situation where Felix is better than what he has in the bullpen late in a game?
“Not if he is at 100 pitches and he is fatiguing, no,” McClendon answered.
Much is taken into consideration when McClendon decides to take Felix – or any starter, for that matter – out of a game. In Felix he sees a pitcher who may not be built to go out and throw 120 pitches every time.
“It’s different for everybody,” he said. “One-hundred is not the number. It’s what I see and how he is pitching that concerns you. Paxton is 6-7 (note: he’s actually 6-4), 250, He’s a horse. Felix is probably the best pitcher in baseball. From a physical standpoint he’s not that big stature. You have got to be careful with the stress you put on him. They’re two different animals. One-hundred for Paxton is different than it is for Felix.”
This is valid on a number of different levels. Felix reported to camp this year at 218 pounds, his lowest weight as a professional. Physically he is not the same as he was two or three years ago. Then there is the matter of 2,050 innings, including seven straight years of 200-plus innings.
“Sure, you take all of that stuff into consideration, absolutely,” McClendon said. “And I get it. I know people would love to see Felix go nine innings, but on the flip side of it those are those people out there when you let him go nine and you give up that two-run home run in the ninth, ‘How in the hell could you leave him in there?’ We’ll keep doing it the way we have. I think we are doing alright.”
With all that said, with the best pitcher on the planet, McClendon said there have been times he has been tempted to leave him out there. At that point he takes the emotion out of the equation.
“Have I been tempted? Yes,” he admitted. “But my deciding factor has always been what’s best for the team, not one individual. I’ve always made my judgments on that. Is it tough sometimes? Yeah. It is what it is, but you have got to make the decision what’s best for the team, not one guy. You have got to look them all in the eye.”
If the fans don’t like it, so be it. McClendon is convinced he is doing the right thing with Felix, and Felix is on board with how he has been managed. I have seen this not just in what he says after games but also behind the scenes, when the television cameras aren’t present. Felix fully supports his manager, and he may in fact be one of his biggest fans.