After he walked five on opening day, Hernandez knew something had to change. So he took pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre’s advice to throw off a mound between starts.
CLEVELAND — Felix Hernandez hasn’t been pleased with how he has pitched this season and isn’t afraid to change his routine to fix it.
The Mariners’ ace threw a bullpen session Wednesday in preparation for his start Friday night vs. the Angels in Anaheim, Calif.
In previous years, Hernandez had eschewed throwing off a mound for a “flat ground” session on the middle day between outings. But with 13 walks, a hit batter and wild pitch in 18 innings this season, Hernandez is throwing mid-start bullpen sessions in hope of finding consistency with his mechanics and command.
This began after he walked five on opening day. Hernandez knew something had to change, so he took pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre’s advice to throw off a mound between starts.
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“I’ve suggested it,” Stottlemyre said. “I’m not going to mandate anything with a guy like that. The suggestions are going to be based on my thoughts and what I think is best for him. And it’s kind of up to him to confirm that it’s OK.”
After walking six Saturday against the Yankees, Hernandez knew another session was needed.
“We kind of took a little step back and worked on his direction, making sure he got that little tilt that he’s always used to getting,” Stottlemyre said. “That will allow him to get top to bottom. He’s been getting down the slope a little quick and doing what I call ‘flattening out or leveling out,’ to where he was more side-to-side and pulling pitches. What happens is you end up losing the feel for the ball and getting off to the side of it as opposed to being on top of your pitches.”
Hernandez told Stottlemyre some of his struggles in 2015 came from mechanical breakdowns. They have reappeared in 2016.
The biggest result from the breakdowns has been lack of fastball command and location. It has been spotty at best, and Hernandez is throwing it less than ever — 40.4 percent of the time, according to FanGraphs.
“We are working just strictly fastballs,” Stottlemyre said. “He doesn’t throw a lot of them in the game. We are encouraging him to still use it, and get outs and throw them in good spots.”
• Mariners reliever Tony Zych earned his first major-league win and got the traditional beer-shower celebration that comes with it.
“Yeah, once in a lifetime, obviously,” he said. “Not many words can describe it, to be honest. I just had a little icebath, I guess. I don’t even know what was in there. I just put my head down and got crushed.”
• The Mariners have won all three of their road series this season, and they have a 6-3 road record.
• Robinson Cano is hitting .333 with a two doubles, a homer, six RBI and four runs scored on the trip.
• All nine hitters in the Mariners’ starting lineup Thursday recorded a hit.