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Félix Hernández

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Felix-Hernandez

A photo of Félix Hernández pitching.

Félix Abraham Hernández
(born April 8, 1986 in Valencia, Venezuela) is a Major League Baseball starting pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. He is already considered the Mariners' top pitcher at only 23 years of age. Highly touted as a prospect, he is widely considered to have the potential to turn into the best pitcher in baseball.[1][2]

Hernández throws a fastball that has been clocked as high as 100 mph, although he does not rely entirely on overpowering velocity. Instead he often uses a two-seam fastball, which comes in just a bit slower but with more movement and sink as it approaches the batter. His repertoire of pitches also includes a hard curve, a changeup, and a slider, all of which he can throw extremely well (he avoided the slider early in his career because the team was concerned it might injure his arm). When at his best, Hernández can induce a steady procession of groundball outs and strikeouts, with very few balls being hit in the air.[3]

Like some other pitchers, Hernández wears a long-sleeved undershirt beneath his uniform jersey. While typically this is done to keep the pitcher's arm from getting chilled, Hernández wears it even in the hottest weather. For him it serves to keep perspiration from running down his arms and interfering with his hand's grip on the baseball.[4]

Hernández has been given the nickname King Felix, a title that matches the moniker of NBA phenom LeBron James. The U.S.S. Mariner weblog invented the nickname in July 2003, when he was just starting out in the minor leagues.[5] Meanwhile, team CEO Howard Lincoln instructed the club's broadcasters to avoid the nickname, to reduce the pressure it might put on Hernández.[6]

Discovery as a prospectEdit

Hernández was first spotted by Luis Fuenmayor, a part-time Mariners scout who saw him pitching at age 14 in a tournament near Maracaibo, Venezuela. Fuenmayor recommended Hernández to fellow scouts Pedro Avila and Emilio Carrasquel, who were impressed with the youngster who could already throw 94 mph. The Mariners continued to follow Hernández for over a year, but baseball rules prohibit teams from signing players to contracts until after they have turned 16.[7]

After graduating from high school, Hernández finally agreed to his first professional contract. Mariners director of international operations Bob Engle signed Hernández as a nondrafted free agent on July 4, 2002. Hernández received a large signing bonus of $710,000, although he said the Mariners were not the highest bidder.[8] Other teams trying to sign him included the New York Yankees, the Atlanta Braves, and the Houston Astros, with the Braves reportedly offering the most money.

One reason Hernández chose the Mariners is because his idol, fellow Venezuelan pitcher Freddy García, was pitching for the team at the time. His agent, Wil Polidor, also attributed the decision to the influence of Hernández's father Felix Sr., a trucking business owner who handled negotiations for his son. Engle and the other Mariners scouts had cultivated a relationship with the family to explain their plans for Felix and earn the family's trust.[9]

Minor league careerEdit

The following year, Hernández came to the United States and began pitching in the Mariners' minor league system. In 2003, Hernández tore through Class-A with a 7-2 mark in Everett and Wisconsin. Returning to his native Venezuela to pitch in the winter league there, he held his own at 17 years of age against competition that included established major league players. Hernández was named the Mariners' minor league pitcher of the year in 2004, a season that also saw him make an appearance in the Futures Game. He started with Inland Empire in the California League, before being promoted to Double-A San Antonio, and finished a combined 14-4 with a 2.95 ERA and 172 strikeouts in 149 1/3 innings pitched.

At the beginning of in 2005, Baseball America listed him as the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball and No. 2 overall behind Joe Mauer. Hernández continued his success in 2005 with the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers in the Pacific Coast League, posting a 9-4 record with a league-leading 2.25 ERA and 100 strikeouts in just 88 innings. He was selected for the Triple-A All-Star Game but did not participate as he spent a month on the disabled list with shoulder bursitis. He was also named PCL Rookie of the Year and Pitcher of the Year.

Major league debut, 2005Edit

Soon after returning from his injury, Hernández was called up to the major leagues by the Mariners. He made his debut on August 4, 2005, in a 3-1 loss in a road game against the Detroit Tigers. At 19 years, 118 days, he was the youngest pitcher to appear in the major leagues since José Rijo in 1984.[10] Hernández earned his first major league win in his next outing on August 9, 2005, pitching eight shutout innings in a 1-0 victory at home over the Minnesota Twins. Over his first several starts, he registered a streak of 112 batters faced before he allowed his first extra-base hit, a double by Jermaine Dye of the Chicago White Sox.

In 12 starts, Hernández posted a 4-4 record with 77 strikeouts and a 2.67 ERA. With 84 1-3 innings pitched, he exhausted his rookie eligibility. After the season, he became the focus of a disagreement over the possibility of his pitching in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Although Hernández was placed on a provisional roster by his native Venezuela, the Mariners objected, citing his earlier injury and expressing concern about the stress on his arm from adding this competition to the demands of a full season in the major leagues at such a young age. Their appeal to the WBC technical committee was eventually upheld.

When he arrived in the major leagues, Hernández was given uniform number 59. In 2006, he switched to number 34, the same number Freddy García (since traded to the Chicago White Sox, and now in the New York Mets system) had worn as a Mariner.

First full season, 2006Edit

For his first full year in the major leagues, Hernández arrived in spring training out of shape and had his preparation for the season interrupted by shin splints. He recovered in time to begin the season in the starting rotation, where he often struggled, but occasionally showed flashes of the potential that had generated such hype. His achievements included a few more personal milestones. He threw his first career complete game on June 11, beating the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim by a score of 6-2.

On August 28, once more against the Angels, Hernández registered his first shutout, needing only 95 pitches and allowing five hits while picking up four strikeouts. The game, which lasted only 1 hour, 51 minutes, was the shortest in the history of Safeco Field. This Mariner victory also snapped a record 20-game losing streak against teams in their own division. Curiously enough, the last time the Mariners had beaten an AL West divisional rival had been Hernández's first complete game against the Angels.[11]

Concerned about avoiding possible injury to their young pitcher, the Mariners declared that they would limit the number of innings Hernández pitched to 200 (counting both the regular season and spring training). This required them to skip his turn in the rotation a couple times as the season went on, after the Mariners fell out of contention. To allow him to make one last start at the end of the year, the team decided to raise the limit to 205. His 191 regular-season innings were still the most on the team, and he finished 12-14 with a 4.52 ERA. His 12 victories and 176 strikeouts also led the Mariner pitching staff.

During the offseason, Hernández returned to his parents' home in a modest Valencia neighborhood, while awaiting completion of a house for himself, his girlfriend and daughter. At the team's insistence, he did not pitch in the Venezuelan winter league, unlike his older brother Moises, a pitching prospect trying to crack the majors with the Atlanta Braves[12]. A Seattle Times profile of his life in Venezuela, with its relaxed daily routine, raised eyebrows among those who remained concerned about his conditioning.[13] The team later explained that he had been specifically instructed to rest for two weeks after the season. He then picked up a workout regimen, including an improved diet, daily running, and regular weight training, to lose about 20 pounds. This put Hernández in much better physical condition upon his return to the United States in January, when he began a throwing program in advance of spring training.[14]

2007 seasonEdit

Based on his improved condition and a successful spring training, the Mariners indicated that in 2007 they would no longer limit the number of innings Hernández could pitch, focusing instead on pitch counts to avoid overuse. With it clear that he was the best pitcher on the staff, and because the Mariners had failed in the offseason to sign top free agents such as Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt, Hernández won the honor of being named the team's Opening Day starter. He became the youngest pitcher chosen for this assignment since Dwight Gooden in 1985. He immediately justified it by pitching eight innings of a 4-0 victory over the Oakland A's, in which he allowed only three hits and two walks while setting a career high with 12 strikeouts.

Hernández thrust himself into the national spotlight with his next start on April 11 against the Boston Red Sox, a much-hyped duel with Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was making his home debut at Fenway Park. Hernández lived up to his end and upstaged the matchup of Matsuzaka pitching to his countryman, Ichiro Suzuki, by hurling no-hit ball for seven innings. Key defensive plays by Jose Lopez and Raúl Ibáñez helped keep the no-hitter alive. J.D. Drew hit a leadoff single in the bottom of the eighth inning to break up the no-hitter but Hernández still outdid his Opening Day effort, finishing with a one-hit, complete game shutout in a 3-0 victory.[15]

The hot start turned into a scare when Hernández called for the training staff during the first inning of his next start against Minnesota. He was removed from the game because of increasing tightness in his right elbow, especially when throwing his slider. The symptoms caused considerable concern because they could indicate serious ligament damage (as they did for the Twins' Francisco Liriano, another highly-touted young pitcher sometimes compared with Hernández, who missed the 2007 season as a result).[6] Hernández also took the loss after giving up three runs in one-third of an inning.

After undergoing an MRI exam that night, he was examined the next day by team physician Edward Khalfayan, who diagnosed the injury as a strained flexor-pronator muscle in his forearm. Hernández was placed on the disabled list and would rest for a few days before beginning to throw again. Two planned returns were put off as the team took a cautious approach in bringing him back, although it opted not to send him to the minor leagues for a rehabilitation assignment. Instead he was activated from the disabled list May 15 and kept on a reduced pitch count initially.

Upon his return, Hernández battled to regain the form he had flashed in those first two starts of the year. After a series of mediocre outings, he was able to boost his confidence with eight scoreless innings in a June 21 victory over the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates. Part of the problem for Hernández was a tendency to get into trouble in the early innings, thus giving up too many runs or not being able to carry his starts deep into the ballgame. The U.S.S. Mariner blog that coined his nickname then posted an "open letter" to Mariners pitching coach Rafael Chaves on June 27, analyzing the pitch sequences used by Hernández at the beginning of games.[16] The posting argued that he was throwing almost exclusively fastballs and thus being hit hard by batters who seemed to know what to expect. Chaves in turn showed this to Hernández to emphasize that he had predictable tendencies, reinforcing Chaves' advice that he needed to stay away from easily-scouted patterns. Hernández then dominated in his last start before the All-Star break, pitching eight innings of two-hit ball against the Athletics.[17]

Hernández finished the season with a 14-7 record. His victory over the New York Yankees on September 3, in his first appearance at Yankee Stadium, stopped a nine-game Mariner losing streak, but was not enough to keep the team from falling out of playoff contention. His 3.92 ERA for the season was the best among the team's starters, and he again led the Mariners in strikeouts with 165.

2008 seasonEdit

Prior to the start of spring training, the Mariners and Hernandez were rumored to be in negotiations for a long-term contract that would buy out Hernandez's arbitration years. [18] Hernandez is currently scheduled to become arbitration-eligible after the 2008 season, and would be eligible for free agency after the 2011 season.

Hernandez showed up to spring training in his best shape yet. He pitched his first complete game of the season on April 16, 2008, against the Oakland Athletics in a 4-2 win. On June 17, Hernandez became the thirteenth AL pitcher ever to throw an "immaculate inning" (striking out the side on the minimum nine pitches) in an interleague game against the Florida Marlins.[19]

On June 23, In his only plate appearance of the season, Hernandez hit his first major league home run, a grand slam, off Johan Santana of the New York Mets. Felix became the first American League pitcher to hit a grand slam since Cleveland's Steve Dunning hit one on May 11, 1971, and was the first to do so since Interleague play began in 1997. It was also the first home run ever hit by a Mariners pitcher. Later on in the same game, Felix injured his ankle while covering home plate on a wild pitch as Carlos Beltran came in to score from third. Felix had to leave the ballgame and was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained left ankle. Prior to injuring his ankle, Felix had 6 of his best starts in his career in consecutive outings and was looking like an elite pitcher; when Hernandez returned to the starting rotation on July 11 he struggled with his command and was never able to regain it to the level he had earlier in the season.

Hernandez finished the season with a 9-11 record posting 3.45 ERA and 175 Strike outs.

2009 seasonEdit

In January, Hernandez avoided arbitration and agreed to a one-year, $3.8 million deal.[20] Just a few months later, he represented his native Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. In his first outing, he pitched four innings in relief of Carlos Silva, surrendering only one hit while not allowing a run. In his next game, Felix pitched his team to an appearance in the semi-finals, shutting out Puerto Rico on four hits in 4.2 innings. In the semi-finals, facing Korea, manager Luis Sojo opted to start Carlos Silva, despite having Hernandez ready on full rest. Silva gave up seven runs in his 1.1 innings of work, ultimately leading to a 10-2 rout by Korea. Hernandez then flew to spring training to join the Seattle Mariners, where he was named the Opening Day starter by new manager Don Wakamatsu.

On April 6th in Minnesota, Felix faced off against Francisco Liriano in the last ever Opening Day in the Metrodome. He twisted his ankle fielding a ground ball in the first, but recovered to strike out Jason Kubel and end the inning. Although he appeared to be limping at times throughout the rest of the game, the injury did not seem to affect his performance. When he was removed from the game following the eighth inning, he had given up one run on five hits, while allowing three walks and striking out six. He threw 97 pitches, 67 of which were strikes. Next, Hernandez faced the Oakland Athletics at their home opener. Although he received a no decision, he recorded his 600th strikeout against Ryan Sweeney. At the age of 23 years old, he becomes one of the youngest and fastest pitchers to strikeout 600 batters since Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets. Currently, Hernandez has begun the season going 4-0, the best start in his career.

2012 seasonEdit

On August 15, 2012, Hernandez threw a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, setting a record for the most perfect games thrown by Major League Baseball pitchers in a season at three (Philip Humber and Matt Cain had accomplished the feat earlier in the season.)

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Stark, Jayson (2007-05-10). Pitchers you'd pay to watch pitch. ESPN.com. Retrieved on 2007-05-15.
  2. Crasnick, Jerry (2007-04-18). It's good to be the king. ESPN.com. Retrieved on 2007-05-15.
  3. Hickey, John. "Felix steals the show". Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 12, 2007.
  4. Andriesen, David. "Hard-charging M's top Texas". Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 25, 2007.
  5. Barker, Jason Michael. U.S.S. Mariner, July 17, 2003.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Ortiz, Jorge L. "Mariners careful not to activate hot Hernandez too soon". USA Today, May 8, 2007.
  7. Morosi, Jon Paul. "Big cast was involved in courtship of Felix". Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 31, 2005.
  8. Andriesen, David. "Mariners prospect Félix Hernández 'untouchable'". Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 29, 2004.
  9. Stone, Larry. "MLB scouts acing their assignments". Seattle Times, April 17, 2007.
  10. Schwarz, Alan. "Teenage pitching debuts". ESPN.com, August 5, 2005.
  11. Stone, Larry. "Felix king for a day". Seattle Times, August 29, 2006.
  12. Matt Eddy (2008-11-11). Minor League Transactions. BaseballAmerica.com. Retrieved on 2008-11-11.
  13. Baker, Geoff. "At home with Félix Hernández". Seattle Times, November 26, 2006.
  14. Arnold, Kirby. "Starter Félix Hernández is in 'amazing shape' after an offseason of working out". Everett Herald, January 24, 2007.
  15. Keri, Jonah. "Dice-K, Ichiro abdicate to King Felix". ESPN.com, April 12, 2007.
  16. "An Open Letter to Rafael Chaves" (2007-06-27).
  17. Baker, Geoff. ""M's fans lend Felix helping hand in victory over A's"", 'Seattle Times', June 8, 2007.
  18. "Mariners Trying to Lock Up Hernandez" (2008-03-01).
  19. "Hernandez's immaculate inning highlights Marlins' loss" (2008-06-18).
  20. http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090119&content_id=3749438&vkey=hotstove2008&fext=.jsp

External linksEdit

Preceded by:
Jamie Moyer
Opening Day starting pitcher
for the Seattle Mariners

2007
Succeeded by:
Érik Bédard

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