Last Thursday provided a seismic moment in Puget Sound sports history. That was the day Felix Hernandez was sent to the bullpen.
For 14 years Hernandez has been the King. Since arriving in Seattle at 19 years old in 2005, Hernandez has been the Mariners’ ace starting pitcher. He’s a six-time All-Star and won the American League Cy Young Award in 2010. He holds the franchise records for career wins (168), innings pitched (2,626.1) and strikeouts (2,441).
Beyond his excellence, Hernandez is beloved by Mariners fans because of his loyalty. During his time in Seattle he’s never been on a team that made the playoffs. He’s played for just four teams that finished the season with winning records, and he’s been on some dire teams that gave him little run support, causing one analysis performed in 2016 to declare him the unluckiest pitcher in baseball history. Yet he chose to sign a lengthy contract extension with the Mariners in 2013, delivering an emotional press conference in which he vowed to get Seattle into the postseason.
This is why there’s a King’s Court at Safeco Field every time Hernandez starts. This is why Mariners fans declare Happy Felix Day! once every five games — some seasons it was the only thing worth cheering.
But Felix Day has been canceled. Last Thursday Mariners manager Scott Servais announced that, Hernandez, for the first time in his major-league career, was being removed from the rotation. All 398 appearances Hernandez has made in the majors have been as a starter, but his next one will be as a reliever.
The announcement came on the heels of a rough outing in which Hernandez allowed 11 runs in six innings. It was just the latest example of Hernandez’s declining effectiveness. Hernandez is 8-10 with a career-high 5.73 ERA. His strikeout rate of 7.19 per nine innings is the second-worst of his career, and his walk rate of 3.34 per nine is the third-worst. His average fastball velocity has dropped to a career-worst 90.3 mph. The past three seasons have seen Hernandez’s numbers deteriorate to the point where analytics say he’s no longer a valuable major-league pitcher.
This all comes at a tough time emotionally for both Hernandez and the Mariners. This could be the year the Mariners finally break their playoff drought, and it would be harsh if Hernandez, someone who’s endured as much losing as any player in Mariners history, was not allowed to play his part. On the other hand, Seattle needs every win it can muster after being passed by Oakland for the AL’s final wild card playoff spot, and the Mariners haven’t won a game Hernandez started since June.
Hernandez, who warmed up in the bullpen during Sunday’s 4-3, 10-inning victory at Houston but did not enter the game, has said he’ll return to the rotation soon, and one suspects he believes he should never have been removed in the first place.
What do you think? Do you believe the Mariners made the right call in yanking Hernandez from the rotation? Have your say here: