Let Felix Hernandez make his final start for the Mariners on Sunday and get a chance to clinch the Cy Young Award he deserves.
It’s hard to blame the Mariners for thinking it might be best to cash out on this Felix Hernandez euphoria. After all, the last time they tried to milk a feel-good story, it ended with Ken Griffey Jr. fleeing to retirement.
Sometimes, it’s good business to close the bar before last call.
But not this time.
King Felix — and he has now earned that once-premature nickname — wants one more start to complete his Cy Young-worthy season. The Mariners look at his career-high 249-2/3 innings pitched and wonder if he should skip his farewell start, which would be Sunday’s season finale at Safeco Field. They’re double-parked in last place, so why risk injury from overuse? But considering the way Hernandez terminates hitters, the only fears about health should be coming from those who face him in the batter’s box.
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So, let the King end it his way.
Let him pitch in front of the home crowd one last time. Let the fans applaud his brilliance amid turmoil. Let Hernandez attempt to strengthen his Cy Young candidacy.
In his case, the reward outweighs the risk. The 24-year-old ace is near the 250-inning mark because he’s too good to get knocked out of games early. He has pitched into the seventh inning 25 straight times. He hasn’t labored through most starts. He has thrown 3,730 pitches this season, the most in his career, but his pitches per plate appearance (3.73) are on par with his career numbers.
Hernandez has 30 quality starts in 34 outings, and if you’re looking to improve your Felix-for-Cy argument, consider this stat via ESPN.com: In the past 30 years, six other pitchers have reached 30 quality starts. All of them — Steve Carlton (1980), Dwight Gooden (1985), Mike Scott (1986), Bret Saberhagen (1989), Greg Maddux (1992) and Randy Johnson (2002) — won the Cy Young Award.
If King Felix also ends the season as the American League leader in innings pitched, strikeouts and earned-run average, he should win the award without further debate. And if the Mariners make the decision to start him Sunday, Hernandez would be pitching to clinch that trifecta of dominance.
Hernandez is young and strong. In his past 10 starts, his ERA is 0.96 over 75-1/3 innings. Sure, he could blow out his arm in his next start, but that could happen any time he takes the mound. Sure, overuse is a long-term concern because we’ve seen the damage a heavy workload can do, but slicing one final start off his season isn’t a dramatic commitment to rest.
If the Mariners were that worried about Hernandez’s health, they would’ve put a hard cap on either his pitch count or innings in early August. But he looks as healthy as ever. There’s nothing wrong with letting him compete one more time this season. An entire offseason of rest is forthcoming.
The Mariners should let him start Sunday, scrutinize him heavily and allow the fans to celebrate his marvelous season. King Felix wants the ball, and he wants the stage. You have to love that.
“If they say, ‘No more,’ I’m going to go out there Sunday,” Hernandez said Tuesday night. “I’m going to get ready, and I’m going to go on the mound.”
Just had a vision: Jack Zduriencik and Chuck Armstrong clinging to King Felix’s ankles as he drags them to the mound.
OK, it won’t get to that point. As an organization, the Mariners deserve tremendous credit for how well they’ve groomed Hernandez. He has grown from teen prodigy to All-Star to best pitcher in the American League partly because of the franchise’s meticulous care and attention to detail while developing him. And the Mariners have kept the focus on doing it right despite having five managers and three general managers (counting Lee Pelekoudas’ interim stint) during the King’s six-year reign.
Credit your two favorite lightning rods — Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln — for making sure change didn’t affect Hernandez’s progress. As a result, with an overpowering ace under contract, the Mariners have a chance to rebuild more quickly than anticipated.
But Hernandez may never have a season quite as special as this one. He should have plenty of good years remaining, but he might not be able to match the consistency and prolonged excellence he has enjoyed in 2010. The Mariners blew it with their historically bad offense and left him with a 13-12 record despite a 2.27 ERA. The only consolation is that Hernandez was forced to rise above the despair.
It’s a breakthrough that will propel him for the rest of his career. And it would be a treat for Mariners fans to see that fight one more time this season.
Hernandez should win the Cy Young, but many voters will need to open their minds for it to happen. But Cy or sigh, there’s a reward that King Felix unquestionably deserves.
A mass appreciation. A standing ovation. An encore performance.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
|AL Cy Young candidates|
|Pitcher, team||W-L||ERA||G||IP||CG||BB||SO||Walks + hits per inning|
|Felix Hernandez, Mariners||13-12||2.27||34||249.2||6||70||232||1.06|
|CC Sabathia, Yankees||21-7||3.18||34||237.2||2||74||197||1.19|
|David Price, Rays||19-6||2.73||31||207.2||2||79||187||1.20|
|Jon Lester, Red Sox||19-8||2.96||31||204.0||2||78||220||1.16|