BROCK AND SALK

Ex-Mariners LHP Eric O’Flaherty has advice for Félix to lengthen his career

Mar 26, 2019, 3:23 PM | Updated: 3:54 pm

Mariners pitcher Félix Hernández will turn 33 early in the 2019 season. (Getty)...

Mariners pitcher Félix Hernández will turn 33 early in the 2019 season. (Getty)

(Getty)

Eric O’Flaherty is familiar with the situation Mariners pitcher Félix Hernández is in with his 33rd birthday less than two weeks away.

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The Walla Walla native and former Mariners reliever has relied heavily on a sinker during a 12-year MLB career (he last pitched in 2017 with the Atlanta Braves), a pitch he had significant success with but also one he said gave him arm troubles that limited his career longevity. And as O’Flaherty told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock and Salk during an in-studio interview on Tuesday morning, Hernández’s reliance on his changeup could result in similar problems.

“If I was in his shoes, I’d ditch the changeup,” said the 34-year-old O’Flaherty, who was Hernández’s teammate from 2006-08. “Just from an arm-health standpoint, I think heavy pronation pitches like that really wear out the back of your shoulder. It’s easy to get inside it. I mean, I’m speaking from experience – I tore my arm apart throwing a sinker. I threw it pretty much 70 percent of the time one year, had a great year, the next year I had Tommy John (surgery). I came back from Tommy John, kept getting outs with it, catchers keep calling it, everybody wants you to throw it.

“I think it makes it really hard when you’re getting inside the ball like that over and over and over to get back to your four-seam (fastball), get back to your curveball.”

O’Flaherty joined Brock and Salk for the final hour of Tuesday’s show, which you can listen to in its entirety in this podcast. Here are a few more notes from his interview.

Mitch Haniger can be an MVP-type player

Asked about Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger, who was a first-time All-Star in 2018, O’Flaherty was effusive in his praise.

“I’d sign him (to a long-term extension). He’s a stud,” O’Flaherty said.

Asked if Haniger is an MVP-caliber player, O’Flaherty didn’t blink an eye.

“I think so. … (MVP award voters) will get tired of giving it to (Angels star Mike) Trout. They gotta give it to somebody else.”

And while O’Flaherty made it clear that he’s not a fan of the Mariners’ rebuild, he’s glad the team decided to keep Haniger as a centerpiece.

“He’s the kind of player you want to build a team around so I think they nailed that, not trading him.”

Why not start Félix on Opening Day?

Due to the Mariners making it clear that 2019 is a step-back season, O’Flaherty would have rather seen the Mariners start Hernández on Opening Day, even though the one-time Cy Young Award winner isn’t the best starting pitcher on the Mariners’ roster anymore.

“What’s the difference if Felix starts Opening Day? Why not give that to him?” he said.

Asked by Brock Huard what message that sends to the rest of the team, O’Flaherty made a point about the importance of respect for veteran leadership in the clubhouse.

“(I would tell the younger players) ‘Shut up. You haven’t done anything yet.'”

A look inside the clubhouse

O’Flaherty shared why he, as a player, wouldn’t like hearing the Mariners talking about 2019 being a step-back season.

“What kind of message are you sending to the guys calling it a rebuild and doing all this other stuff? The players don’t want to hear that; they’re trying to win no matter what. They’re invested, they believe in themselves. You don’t want to sit in the clubhouse and think you’re not trying to win, so maybe that’s why they don’t want to start Félix Opening Day because it might send that message. But at the same time, you know you gave up four studs (James Paxton, Robinson Canó, Edwin Díaz and Jean Segura) this offseason. It’s pretty obvious that this isn’t the year we’re going for it.”

Notebook: Mallex Smith finally gets on field with his Mariners teammates

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Ex-Mariners LHP Eric O’Flaherty has advice for Félix to lengthen his career