Hernandez is struggling with his command and mechanics and not allowing runs in the first inning.
Mel Stottlemyre glanced at the hallway to see Felix Hernandez saunter into the Mariners’ clubhouse after playing catch pregame.
The Mariners’ pitching coach kept watching to see where Hernandez was going, because he needed to check on his his struggling starting pitcher a day after delivering yet another uneven outing in a 9-5 loss on Tuesday night.
“I’m just going to point out all the good things that he did — the differences that I saw in his body and his arm and his execution of pitches early in the game,” Stottlemyre said. “And remind him that the work that we put in, we’re in it for the long haul. It’s not an overnight fix. It’s something we have to continue.”
It’s been an eventful week for the two men. Following another forgettable outing in Oakland where he experienced more first-inning struggles, Hernandez sought out Stottlemyre for help. That isn’t typical behavior for Hernandez, who has always believed he can fix himself and correct any problems he is having on the mound on his own.
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But Hernandez had no answers.
“I don’t know if I’d call it rock bottom, but he’s obviously a guy that’s searching or frustrated with the results that he’s been getting,” Stottlemyre said. “This guy has a lot of pride. There’s times he will buy into things that he may not let people know he’s buying into them. I’m hoping after talking with him that he feels better about the work that we did, so we can continue forward with it.”
The work centered on two aspects. The first was becoming more focused and more intense in his pregame preparation and warm-up routine to avoid the first-inning struggles. The second was addressing some of the mechanical problems in his delivery, which have led to spotty command, particularly with his fastball.
“We went through some different things in terms of his pregame warm-up, which I was convinced and that’s not always the case, that we when walked out of the bullpen, he was ready,” Stottlemyre said. “I thought his focus was outstanding. I liked his tempo in his delivery, which we had worked on in the bullpen. He made one mistake in the inning. He got in a 2-0 count and it cost him a home run.”
Still, the Mariners can live with a solo homer in the first inning. It’s actually an improvement from past outings.
“It’s staying away from the damage and how he gets there and kind of creates his own mess,” Stottlemyre said. “And he was good up until the sixth inning.”
As for the never-ending search to find some consistency in Hernandez’s mechanics, which should in turn yield better overall command of the pitches, Stottlemyre made him throw a bullpen in between starts. Hernandez has often preferred to throw flat ground sessions on his throw-day in between starts. But work off the mound was recommended/demanded.
“In our bullpen, we threw 30 fastballs and just worked both sides of the plate,” Stottlemyre said. “We went back and looked at some video. He talked about not feeling great on the mound with his delivery. I put a clock on his old delivery and the one he’s been taking into the game this year. I’ve been screaming at him all the time to get his body going down the slope. Sure enough there’s been a big gap in those times.”
So in the bullpen session, Stottlemyre used a stopwatch to time Hernandez’s windup in an effort force tempo.
“We are trying to get him to feel some tempo throughout his body and have it carry him down the slope to make aggressive pitches and not get his head away from his hand and lose the ball and lose his command,” Stottlemyre said. “I think he felt better about that. He needs to see some results quick.”
Hernandez has never patient with process. And the concern is that he might not believe the changes made are yielding better results and revert to his old, comfortable ways.
“As a player, I know he’s looking for the results and he wants to see the wins and stuff,” Stottlemyre said. “And it’s easy to $#%can the work we did. For me, I’m convinced it was a move in the right direction.”
But the key is convincing Hernandez. Stottlemyre has always been cognizant of Hernandez’s past success and all that he’s accomplished. At the big league level, established pitchers can be hesitant or resistant to change. But Stottlemyre knows he can’t let Hernandez relapse into old habits. It’s as much about the Mariners as the player.
“I’ve said all along that I respect the hell out what he’s done,” he said. “But I’ve got to look at what he needs to do and the body of work he needs to get through some of his deficiencies or things we aren’t doing in the game. I have to look past his history and what he’s done. I can only look into how we can get him in a good place and helps us win some games. He can still win some games.”
Given his performance this season — a 5-4 record and 5.83 ERA in 12 starts, including just one start of more than six innings, Hernandez has been Seattle’s least effective starter. But does he realize that? Does he know that it’s just not working? It’s a hard conversation. But it’s needed.
“We’ve had nice conversations and he respects me,” Stottlemyre said. “I’ve given it to him straight like I would my own son — right to the point, with no soft serve. He needs that.
*** Catcher Chris Herrmann was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a strained right oblique. Catcher David Freitas was recalled and in uniform for the game on Wednesday night. Herrmann suffered the injury during batting practice on Monday.
*** Dee Gordon (toe fracture) is scheduled to return to the Mariners’ lineup on Thursday when he’s eligible to come off the disabled list. Asked if he’d be ready to go on Thursday, Gordon replied, “I don’t know,” while dramatically and repeatedly nodding his head yes.”
*** Right-hander Sam Carlson, considered to be Seattle’s top pitching prospect by most publications, threw a bullpen session on Tuesday at the team’s complex in Arizona. He has returned to throwing off the mound after dealing with elbow issues this spring and last season.
Carlson, who was taken in the second round of last year’s MLB draft, received a Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injection during spring and was shut down from throwing. He now begins a throwing progression that will hopefully lead him back to game action with the Arizona League Mariners. The Mariners won’t push him in his return to the mound.