Felix happy to swing the bat but knows his pitching is what is most important
By Shannon Drayer
Felix Hernandez put up his second straight strong performance after a disastrous May as the Mariners put an end to their frustrating winless streak against the Padres this season, beating them 5-1 at Petco Park on Saturday.
You had the feeling this one could be fun from the start. Any game that Felix gets a bat in his hands has that potential but Saturday’s game, as we all know, fell on the fourth anniversary of his grand slam against the Mets. We didn’t see quite the dramatics that we saw that night (in addition to the slam, Felix sprained his ankle later in the game against the Mets) but he provided some fireworks, sending the first pitch he saw from Jason Marquis down the right-field line.
“Try to swing at the first pitch,” he said of his approach. “I know it was a fastball. Try to hit it good.”
Hit it good he did, but he didn’t immediately take off running for first. Turns out he shocked himself a bit.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, that is a double!'” he said. “Then I was trying to be fast.”
Trying would be the operative word there. Felix is not going to win any baserunning awards, although he did try to be smart on the bases. When Franklin Gutierrez sent a grounder to short, Felix held up a bit on his way to third base.
“I don’t know why he throw to third,” he said of the play. “I was just trying to be in the middle so I could block the vision (of the shortstop).”
While the hitting was fun for Felix, it was his pitching that he felt was more important. As much as he loves to hit and well aware that it was the anniversary of his slam, he understood why he was pulled for pinch hitter John Jaso with the bases loaded and two out in the top of the eighth inning. He was not upset that he didn’t get to swing the bat one more time.
“I don’t care about hitting, I just want to win the game,” he said.
While his bat may have gotten the offense going, it was his pitching that led the way. Felix again had good command of his fastball, which gave him confidence on the hill.
“My fastball was pretty good,” he said. “When my fastball is good the breaking ball is way better.”
He didn’t show the velocity he did in his last start but I think two things come into play here. As I said before, I think the radar gun that night was off a tick. It was also warmer that day. On Saturday it got chilly quickly when the sun went down. Regardless, he had his pitches, his location and breaking ball. With 10 strikeouts against the Padres I would say that velocity was not important.
Felix also had outstanding defense behind him. Brendan Ryan turned in yet another highlight reel play, starting a double play while stumbling to his right and making a throw I am not sure any other player in baseball could make. Dustin Ackley also turned two on a sharp liner that he was able to flip to Ryan. Both plays were noticed by Felix.
“Dude. The defense today was pretty good,” he said. “Brendan, Ackley, the double play was unbelievable. That’s how we win. The defense and pitching good.”
Felix’s only misstep? A balk in the first inning that brought in the Padres’ only run. He conceded that he kept his back foot down.
“It was a balk,” he said. “I was trying to be quick and I didn’t step off of the rubber.”
What Felix did was nearly impossible, twisting and throwing all the way to first without stepping off.
“Too quick?” he answered when asked if that was the problem. “Well, you see me on the double, yeah?”