Felix Hernandez arrived safely in Kansas City Sunday evening for the All-Star Game, having chartered a private Gulfstream jet that flew out of the Bay Area after the Mariners’ game with Oakland. A’s manager Bob Melvin, a coach on Ron Washington’s American League coaching staff, and Oakland closer Ryan Cook, one of a record five rookies in the game, hitched a ride with Felix.
“It was on me,” Hernandez said.
Melvin, by the way, never got to manage Hernandez during his two seasons with the Mariners (2003 and 2004).
“I asked for him one time in spring training, to see him, and they wouldn’t even let me see him,” Melvin said.
Mariners management was afraid Hernandez would be so impressive he would convince them to keep him in the major leagues ahead of their timetable. Hernandez broke into the big leagues in 2005, but by that time Melvin had been fired. Melvin has grown into a big proponent of Hernandez, and felt he looked as good as ever in Sunday’s outing against the A’s — another tough-luck no decision.
“He always does,” Melvin said. “He’s doing things a little things differently now, but that’s the mark of a good pitcher. He’ll save the top velocity for when he needs it, but he’s so unpredictable now in the pitches that he throw that’s he’s just as good and just as effective as he’s ever been.”
Hernandez threw 113 pitches in Sunday’s game, which puts his availability for Tuesday in question. I asked Washington if Felix was out of the game, and he replied, “No, he said he would be able to give us one (inning) if necessary. So we’ll see where we are and move from there.”
Here’s what Hernandez told me this afternoon at the press availabilty session at Arrowhead Stadium: “If they need me, I’ll pitch. It’s my bullpen day. If they need me, I’ll pitch.”
Does he want to pitch? He paused before answering, “Yeah. Why not? That’s why I’m here, right? I threw a lot of pitches yesterday, so I have to talk to Wash, see what we’ve got.”
So the answer to whether Hernandez will pitched tomorrow is, we’ll see. Yes, it’s his bullpen day, but I’m not sure the Mariners would want Hernandez, coming off Sunday’s workload, to pitch with the adrenalin of facing the best hitters in the world. Even for an inning.
Naturally, I asked Hernandez about the trade rumors that are again starting to swirl around him, and the feeling by many people that the Mariners have no choice but to trade him at some point before his contract expires after the 2014 season.
“Why?” he said forcefully. “First of all, it’s not my decision. I don’t think they’re going to trade me. I like Seattle, and I want to help the Seattle Mariners win a World Series.”
Would he sign back here when his contract is up to continue that pursuit? “I have two more years. I want to stay here,” he said. “It’s my decision.”
I asked him how he keeps from getting frustrated with so many games like Sunday’s in which the team doesn’t score enough for him to win.
“I like those kind of games, close games,” he said. “I don’t get frustrated. I try to help my team win. I believe in the organization. I believe we’re going in the right direction. We’re better. We’re going to be better.”
So there you have it. Hernandez has been remarkably steadfast in his support of the Mariners’ direction, even in the face of struggles and losing seasons. Of course, it’s one thing to say he wants to stay in Seattle. That’s P.R. 101. I don’t doubt his sincerity, but there’s an awful lot that can keep that from happening. As I wrote last Sunday, we are entering a period of unease regarding Hernandez’s future in Seattle that isn’t going to lift for awhile.
One nice thing for Hernandez: In addition to his wife and two children, who are here in Kansas City, his mother and father have flown here as well. It is their first chance to see Hernandez in an All-Star Game. This is his third.