The reality of the kind of pitcher Félix Hernández is now may finally be hitting him
Félix Hernández returned to the Mariners’ clubhouse on Tuesday night the owner of a 5.83 ERA, partially the result of another rough outing in which he allowed five runs over five innings.
As he spoke to the media, Shannon Drayer, Mariners insider for 710 ESPN Seattle who has covered Félix for his entire major league career, heard something different from the 32-year-old former Cy Young Award winner.
“Last night when we talked to him, I think it was one of the first times that it was really kind of hitting him: ‘This is where I’m at right now,’” Drayer told Brock and Salk on Wednesday.
As in, the reality may be setting in with King Félix that he can’t get away with approaching his starts and opposing batters the same way he has for the last decade-plus.
That’s not to say this is the first time Félix has been in a spot like he is now – a 5-4 record, 1.40 WHIP, and a run of seven straight outings where he’s given up at least three runs. But as his numbers declined over the previous two seasons, it was easy to find an explanation for why he was struggling.
“I think he is so wrapped up in who he is, and that’s been important to who he has been on the hill,” Drayer said. “I think that excuses come into play – and I don’t mean this in a negative way, I mean this in a logical way. I think that Félix in his mind thinks that he has done everything that he can do, that he is doing everything that he can do, but you go back two years and that was the first time he kind of ran into injury problems. So he wasn’t Félix because of the injuries. … You go back to all the injuries last year, well that was the same thing. He wasn’t Félix because of not only the injury problems, but he changed his workout in the offseason and that didn’t quite work out for him.”
It also makes sense that Félix’s main hiccup this year can be used to explain his overall numbers. In the first inning, he has an ERA of 12.00, which ranks last among pitchers with more than than seven starts (Félix has made 12 starts). Take the first inning out of the equation, and his ERA is a much more palatable 4.17.
Manager Scott Servais sent a message last week about Félix’s first inning woes last week, however.
“Scott Servais hit on it, and I think he kind of hit on it bluntly when we were in Oakland – he mentioned the word focus,” Drayer said. “You’ve gotta come out ready to pitch, and when you see it time after time after time, and then you see a player – not just Félix, any player – able to get into the game after that, I think it speaks to preparedness and it speaks to focus.”
There have long been efforts to get Félix to make adjustments to his approach, and at various times he has made some. But there’s an explanation for why he’s had a hard time embracing a full-scale change, too.
“He’s had just a revolving door of managers, of pitching coaches over the years,” Drayer said. “He’s always been the first one who said, ‘I’ve gotta do this myself because I don’t know who’s gonna be here next year, or two years from now, or three years from now.’”
Another part of the problem there might be that getting Félix to produce in his 30s is a long-term project, not just a matter of him making a decision about how to pitch more like a veteran.
“You can go to work in different ways and try to put different carrots out there for him,” Drayer said. “I think those are there now and they weren’t there before, but it’s not the matter of one person sitting down (with him).
“I think it’s more of a process, and that’s not an easy thing to do.”