Speaking with the media for the first time since being moved to the bullpen, Hernandez said he plans to use his time in the bullpen to get back to the rotation.
HOUSTON — Just when you thought the bad performances had completely drained the swagger and confidence from him and the last remnants of the King Felix aura were a wistful memory, Felix Hernandez reminds you that such traits aren’t easily removed or forgotten.
Saturday afternoon, the long-time ace spoke to the media after being told 48 hours earlier he’d been discharged from the Mariners’ starting rotation for the first time in his career.
Admittedly, he needed that period of time to come to some sort of acceptance with the Mariners’ decision that almost every other person saw coming except him. It’s why he said he didn’t want to say anything in the hours after the move became public.
“I had a good conversation with my wife, my family, my agent. I’m finally right up in here,” he said, motioning to his head.
Hernandez knows the position the Mariners are in, fighting with the A’s for an American League wild-card spot. In Hernandez’s 14 years in the big leagues, the Mariners have never made the postseason. They’ve been marginally close only a handful of times. This season represents his best opportunity to go there. The chance to finally get to the postseason outweighs the frustration of not being a starting pitcher while trying to make it there.
“I’m just part of the team,” he said. “I’m going to do whatever is possible to help this team.”
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He shrugged off the idea of having to mentally adjust to his new role.
“I’m a professional,” he said. “I’ll be ready and prepared every day.”
He’s never once made a relief appearances at the big-league level. He’s pitched in 389 games and started every one of them. But Hernandez pointed out he had pitched out of the bullpen a few times in his career.
“I’ve done it before,” he said with smirk. “I’ve done it in All-Star Games, so it’s not going to be anything that different.”
Well, the preparation and warmup will be different. He’s used to having an extended amount of time to prepare on days he would pitch. That’s been lessened significantly.
“OK, I might need some extra time,” he said with a chuckle.
Knowing that, Seattle manager Scott Servais is going to try and find the right time to use Hernandez when possible, preferably at the start of an inning with requisite warmup time.
“You might see him tonight or tomorrow,” Servais said. “He needs to be ready to go. In a perfect world, you’d like to have that. But it’s not always perfect. It depends on how the game plays out, but certainly for the first time out there, you’d like that.”
Servais is hopeful Hernandez can regroup with his time in the bullpen. Servais said he felt like the pressure of the playoff push and Hernandez’s awareness of his own command issues made it difficult for success.
“The biggest thing with Felix was kind of the scenario that was built up around him,” Servais said. “This lets some of the air out of the balloon. Catch your breath, step back and just go out and pitch. Whether it’s a couple innings, get three outs and then four, five or six outs and just simplify it.”
Could it lead Hernandez back to the rotation?
“I hope it goes well,” Servais said. “I hope he pitches well enough that there’s an opportunity for him to get back in the rotation at some point. We’ll see.”
Call it denial, stubbornness or obliviousness, but Hernandez said he believes he will eventually return to the rotation. This move to the bullpen isn’t permanent in his mind. He’s going to use it to get back to where he’s always been.
“I’m just going to go for it,” he said. “Just try to be better. If they need me at the end to start a game, I’ll be ready for that, too. I’m going to be a starter anyway. I’m not a reliever. I’m a starter.”
Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez arrived in Houston on Saturday afternoon. He will start in Hernandez’s place on Sunday in the series finale with the Astros.
Ramirez was going to make another rehab start Saturday after some mechanical issues in his previous outing, but the Mariners couldn’t wait for another rehab outing.
“I know he wasn’t as sharp his last time out, but he’s certainly started plenty of games in the big leagues and he did a nice job for us last year,” Servais said. “He wasn’t himself early in the season with the setback in spring training. We’ll just fire him out there, eyeball it and see how it goes.”