by Stephen Zielinski
King Felix Hernandez of the Mariners pitches again tonight (Saturday, August 20, 2005). Don’t miss the spectacle if you can manage it. It’s worth watching.
Felix Hernandez. He’s a callow 19 year old rookie. But, he’s not an ordinary rookie. His fastball sits at 97 mph. He supplement’s his fastball with a plus curveball and changeup. He’s also developing a slider which should become yet another plus pitch. (The Mariners told him to shelve the slider while he was in the low minors, for fear that he might injure his arm!) Hernandez was Baseball America’s number two prospect before the season began. Oh, and he throws strikes.
Lots of strikes! He’s already fanning a hitter per inning in the major leagues.
How dominant has ‘King Felix’ been since he made it to Seattle? Well, David Cameron of the U.S.S. Mariner lately remarked that:
The average hitter Felix has faced so far has a season line of .269/.327/.406. Against Felix, they are hitting .153/.191/.153. He has cut the opponents hitters OPS by 53 percent over what they are against the rest of the league. For comparison, Roger Clemens average opponent has a season line of .256/.325/.405, and are hitting .188/.245/.255. Clemens has cut opponents OPS lines by 32 percent. Even adjusting for opponents, Felix has been dominant on a level that no other pitcher in baseball, even Roger Clemens, has matched.
That’s very impressive, isn’t it! Roger Clemens is having one of the greatest seasons in history, yet Hernandez is besting him so far. But, Hernandez’s debut calls to mind another overpowering pitcher of recent vintage. During his brief major league career, Hernandez been more dominating a pitcher than Mark Prior had been before Dusty Baker damaged his arm by abusing it during the Cubs’ 2003 pennant run. More importantly, Hernandez does not appear to have the mechanical problems that have plagued phenoms like Kerry Wood and Rick Ankiel. Hopefully, he’ll avoid the pitfalls that accompany early stardom, as Dwight Gooden did not. What’s clear, though, is that the ‘King Felix’ buzz has taken off (See Aaron Gleeman, Seth Stohs).
You don’t want to believe the hype? No one can blame you. Yet, I would say: Believe it. Only an injury or two appears capable of stopping the King. After all, he’s 19. He’s still growing, developing, learning. Watch him pitch. He makes it look easy.
The King began last night’s game (8.20.2005) by giving up two runs in the first inning. A walk and two singles generated the runs. Hernandez then put himself into cruise control and held the Twins to no runs on three hits for the rest of his stint. Hargrove took him out in the eighth inning with the score tied at two. His line: 8.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 SO, 0 HR, 1.24 ERA. He’s holding the opposition to an astonishing .157/.196/.157.
The Twins, last night’s opponents, faced the King for the second time. That didn’t help them much at all.
The bad news: He threw 115 pitches. The bad news was lessened by the fact that 77 of his pitches were strikes, a 67% strike per pitch rate. Still, this easily was his highest pitch count of his major league career.