Make no mistake, this Felix start was a gem

Jul 19, 2012, 7:43 PM | Updated: Jul 20, 2012, 11:09 am

By Shannon Drayer

This start by Felix Hernandez will get lost in the growing number of strong starts he has made this year. It shouldn’t. Of the 225 big-league starts Felix has made, I have seen in person 212 of them and this was one of the most impressive.

Never mind the fact it was against the Royals. They have got some good, aggressive hitters. Yes, he gave up eight hits and only struck out three. He didn’t finish the game. No matter. What he did in 100-degree-plus temperatures without an inch of shade the entire game was remarkable.

On a day like Thursday in Kansas City a pitcher must economize to stay in the game. When he got into a hint of trouble with runners on in the first and second innings he got his groundouts that have been strangely absent this year. Not only did he get them when he needed them, he got them throughout the game, finishing with 12 groundouts to four flyouts.

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Felix Hernandez struck out just three Royals on Thursday but induced plenty of groundballs, most of them with his four-seam fastball. (AP)

His biggest victim was Billy Butler. No, he didn’t have the “Silver Sombrero”. He didn’t even strike out once. No, he grounded out four times to shortstop. Felix got him to do the same thing four times. No doubt he was shaking his head after this one.

Strikeouts are fun, and Felix has been putting them up at a pace that has put him atop the American League leaderboard, but that is not what was needed on a day like Thursday. Quick outs were, and how he was able to dial it up when he needed it is beyond me.

“I knew it was hot so I tried to throw strikes and get quick outs,” said a barely-fatigued-looking Hernandez (seriously, Lucas Luetge looked far worse after throwing just one inning in the heat). “I was throwing my fastballs because I realized they were sitting on my changeup.”

After his start against Baltimore on July 3 I asked Felix why we hadn’t seen the groundballs that we normally did from him. He expressed a little frustration in also not seeing them, and then after a second muttered that maybe he needed to throw his two-seamer a bit more.

This made sense. He hasn’t thrown his two-seamer as much this year. That pitch has been his bread-and-butter pitch for the last few years and for some reason he was throwing more of his four-seam fastball. I assumed he was throwing more two-seamers Thursday, and Pitch F/X said he indeed was, but Felix Hernandez is Pitch F/X’s biggest enemy as his pitches are generally unclassifiable because of their crazy movement, so I should have known better. Both Felix and John Jaso said he didn’t throw many at all and that it was the four-seamer that was generating the grounders.

That four-seamer has done all sorts of magical things this year, including mimicking cutters. On Thursday it got grounders. Jaso had a possible explanation.

“I think his fastball probably had the same movement throughout the year, but his velo has ticked up a couple of notches so I think that movement has become later and the hitters aren’t seeing that movement until the ball is almost at the plate,” Jaso said. “That is pretty tough to handle as a hitter.”

OK. As good an explanation as I can come up with but honestly, I am not going to try much more. Or it may just be magical. Like his changeup. Whatever it is, it is special.

As was this 89-pitch performance.

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Make no mistake, this Felix start was a gem