Emotions crushed Felix Hernandez’s effort at precise upkeep during one of the biggest days of his life.
The Seattle Mariners‘ star right-hander wore a tailored tan suit beneath his just-cut hair. After signing a seven-year, $175 million contract to stay in Seattle — the only place he’s played professionally — Hernandez had to hunt for breath and spit out words as his eyes filled with tears during a press conference in Safeco Field on Feb. 13, 2013.
“I’m not going to disappoint anybody,” Hernandez said. “I’m going to do my best, more than my best … to … get to the point of playoffs. I will do my best. I’m telling you this, we’re going to make the playoffs. We’re going in the right direction.”
Then the team won 71 games.
A year later, Hernandez’s proclamation is proving accurate. He’s blown through the American League and the Mariners are grappling for the second wild card spot. Friday, he’ll take the mound where he’s thrown a perfect game, and dominated for almost a decade, to face the visiting Washington Nationals in the opener of a three-game series in Seattle.
Nationals outfielder Denard Span is 2-for-22 (.091) in his career against Hernandez. Infielder Asdrubal Cabrera is 3-for-20 (.150). They’ve struck out a combined 13 times in those at-bats.
In addition to Span and Cabrera, Hernandez has faced Adam LaRoche, Kevin Frandsen, Scott Hairston and Jose Lobaton. They are a combined 2-for-13 with five strikeouts.
After redefining the criteria for the Cy Young Award in 2010 when he won the honor despite a 13-12 record, Hernandez is steamrolling toward a second. His video-game numbers have him as the clear favorite at this point: 2.07 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, .196 batting average against, .238 on-base percentage against. Hernandez, 28, is averaging a career-high 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s averaging a career-low 1.6 walks.
The main reason for his demolition of the American League is his changeup, or “cambio” as he calls it in Spanish. It’s a diabolical pitch that produces outs, embarrassment and confusion.
Hernandez has thrown his changeup 31.1 percent of the time this season, an eight percent increase from last year. Its average speed is 89 mph. It looks precisely like his fastball out of his hand prior to dropping like a hefty, hanging sack suddenly cut loose.
Batters are hitting .097 against the changeup this season. Those are the outs.