Braves starting pitcher Felix Hernandez warms up before a spring training game against the Rays on March 3 in Venice, Florida. (Associated Press)

Braves starting pitcher Felix Hernandez warms up before a spring training game against the Rays on March 3 in Venice, Florida. (Associated Press)

Felix Hernandez aims for 200 career wins and 3,000 strikeouts

But the COVID-19 pandemic is getting in the way of the former Mariner’s pitcher’s goals.

By Gabriel Burns / The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA —Felix Hernandez is aspiring to play a few more seasons, if his recent comments are any indication.

In an interview with “The Bob, Dave and Moore Show” on 710 ESPN Seattle, Hernandez laid out his late-career hopes: 200 wins and 3,000 strikeouts.

“I’m going to go year-by-year,” Hernandez said last week. “Because my goal is to get to 200 wins and to get to 3,000 strikeouts. If I can get to that goal, I’m going to hang my spikes. I’m done.”

The station was celebrating “Felix Week,” reliving his best games as one of the all-time great Seattle Mariners. Since his debut at age 19 in 2005, the now 34-year-old has assembled a borderline Hall of Fame resume.

He spent 15 years with the Mariners, earning six All-Star nods and six top-8 Cy Young finishes. He won the award in 2010 after posting a 2.27 ERA with 232 strikeouts across 249.2 innings.

Despite Hernandez’s illustrious prime, Seattle never made the postseason in his time there. He slowed down in recent years, largely because of injury, prompting the sides to part. Hernandez signed a non-guaranteed deal with the Atlanta Braves this winter, hoping he finally would experience postseason play.

Hernandez appeared to have made the club with an encouraging spring training, but the COVID-19 crisis ceased baseball for the foreseeable future. Hernandez finished spring with a 1.98 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 13.2 innings (four outings).

The season’s delay spoiled what seemed to be a successful first step of his career’s next phase. Hernandez, who showed impressive stuff despite a velocity dropoff, insisted a string of injuries was to blame for his decline.

Hernandez continuously said he thought he would win one of the Braves’ rotation openings throughout spring training. He’s since been at his home in Miami, working out in anticipation of a season.

“It was different, but it was a challenge I took and I really, really liked it,” Hernandez said, recalling spring training in a Braves uniform. “I’ve still got it. I’m really, really confident (laughs). I was in really good shape and I’m healthy.”

It will be challenging for Hernandez to reach his desired milestones. He currently has 169 wins and falls 476 strikeouts short of 3,000. He’d need to play multiple seasons to reach those numbers, a task that grows more difficult with a shortened or canceled campaign.

His win total is tied with Clayton Kershaw for the fifth-most among active pitchers. The only two active players with more than 200 wins are Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, with Jon Lester at 190. Hernandez is fifth among active pitchers in strikeouts, with Verlander the only current player to exceed 3,000.

First things first: There needs to be a 2020 season. Hernandez would presumably make the Braves’ expanded roster, though that’s not a lock. He’d then need to show he can still be productive and worth another contract, be it from the Braves or someone else, next season.

Hernandez’s comeback story was interrupted by powers out of his control. Whenever baseball resumes, it’ll be on him to overcome another obstacle to continue his playing career — and possibly reach his lofty milestones.

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