The Mariners are cruising right now. They have a solid starting rotation, and a bullpen that is performing at an unexpectedly high level. They are among the league leaders in fewest runs allowed, and are second in the league in runs scored. Kyle Seager is one good game away from crossing the Mendoza Line to join the rest of his teammates. The Mariners lead the league in home runs, and not just the solo variety so prominent in 2015. The M’s are winning, and they look good. Things are almost perfect.
After six outings a blind man can see that our leader, our King, our spiritual center is not the same. I am worried about Felix Hernandez. For the past couple of years, pundits have commented on Felix’s decline in velocity. But the strikeouts kept coming, and wins if his teammates deigned to score a few runs for him. He should have won the Cy Young award in 2014. But despite the 18 wins in 2015, it was clear something was different. With several big melt downs, Felix showed difficulty getting out of some big innings.
Velocity is down a couple ticks. Increasingly Felix is having difficulty with command as the movement on all his pitches seems to be-everywhere. Loss of speed can be managed with command, but lose both and there is potential for, well, yesterday. Four innings, four earned runs, nine hits. In his 36.2 innings, Felix walked 18 batters, and struck out only 29. His swing and miss rate on his fastball is only 8%. Yesterday in Buster Olney’s podcast, Felix’s decline was the subject of conversation. It is the topic of discussion on Lookout Landing in a heartfelt story by Nathan Bishop. .
This doesn’t mean the King is done, or washed up, or ineffective, but it does mean that at least right now he isn’t the same king we’ve always known. You know him, the guy we went to Safeco to watch while fools like Bill Bavasi and Jack Zdurencik gave him Erik Bedard and Milton Bradley as teammates. No, I still believe Felix will contribute to this team, but the results may not be a given. He will be tough, he will compete, but his rule may not be quite as complete or easy as it has been. Felix may not be Edward III in his dotage, but he may not be the victor of Crecy either.
But this team looks like one that can give Felix what he’s always wanted–a chance to pitch in the playoffs. Robinson Cano may carry him there all by himself as he begins to assemble an early case for AL MVP. M’s management should pull out all the stops to help this team win today. Find ways to bolster the bullpen, if this team is still streaking at the trade deadline, do whatever needs to be done to help the M’s win. They should do it for Felix. They should do it for our King.