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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

June 15, 2007 at 11:12 PM

Running out of gas

Many of you have commented on how flat the Mariners looked out there tonight. Well, they didn’t just look it. They felt it. Willie Bloomquist, he of inside-the-park-home run fame, summed it all up rather eloquently.
“We were a little flat,” Bloomquist said. “I think the road’s catching up to us. Hopefully, we can win at least one of the next two games to salvage something on this trip. It’s been a good trip for us but hopefully we can…finish it on a strong note.”
Mariners manager Mike Hargrove is making some unique lineup changes for tomorrow night’s game. They haven’t been announced yet, but he told Jose Lopez after the game that he’d be playing third base tomorrow. And guess who starts at second? Try Jose Vidro.
“Hey, there’s a rookie playing second tomorrow,” Lopez kidded after the game, pointing Vidro’s way.
Hey, players need a rest. Others just aren’t getting it done. It’s mid-June. About time for Richie Sexson to get over the .200 mark, don’t you think? Someone asked me why the Mariners and Hargrove cling so desperately to Sexson in the middle of the order.
I compared it to an elevator. You press the button and sometimes two or three minutes go by with no sign of the car arriving. But you stay there. You don’t go for the stairs and start climbing. Why? Because you know that the minute you give up on the elevator, the car arrives and the door opens (and closes again before you can sprint back down the flight of stairs to catch it).
Sexson is like the elevator everyone keeps expecting to show up any day now. You look at his second-half numbers and you just can’t bring yourself to give up on playing him every day. You keep waiting for that 35-homer pace to kick in. For the slugging percentage to soar. And there’s that gnawing feeling that if you pull away from him, give up too soon, you’re going to miss the lift he could bring any moment.
It’s a tough situation.
The good news tonight? Well, the Angels were beaten by their crosstown rivals. Ervin Santana lost on the road again. Say, if the games are played in Los Angeles, only in Chavez Ravine instead of Orange County, does that really count as the road? Uh, yes. It does.
The bad news? Say hello to your third-place Mariners. Yes, the Oakland A’s finally caught and passed Seattle. But it took them all the way until June 15 to do it. And it’s only by one game. How many of you could have predicted that back on April 2? Remember back when Felix Hernandez outdueled Dan Haren? Yes, it really does seem like such a long time ago. No, this is not the same Hernandez we’re seeing.
So, should this be all doom and gloom? I don’t know. The M’s did stay five back of the Angels, about where they’ve been the past month. They didn’t lose ground in that race and that is really what a team has to stay focused on before worrying about becoming the best second-place (wild card) finisher.
But as Bloomquist said, the Mariners are wearing down after this grueling stretch of games with only one off day. They’ll get another on Monday.
That won’t fix Hernandez. I’ve seen a lot of online debate about whether this is a command issue or an issue about pitch selection. Both sides have a lot of merit and I’m fascinated by the detail to which those arguing the pitch selection theory can tell you exactly how many of what type of pitch he threw in making their case.
All I can tell you is, Hernandez feels it’s a command issue. He said tonight that he doesn’t have the consistency he needs when it comes to throwing pitches where he wants them to go. There has been a lot of debate amongst the people on this site about him throwing too many early fastballs, especially four-seamers.
Hernandez told us tonight that his two-seam fastball is not what it once was early in the season, before his injury.
“My two-seamer was working better than now,” he said. “Now, I haven’t got nothing.”
I asked Hernandez whether his bullpen sessions between starts were any better where his two-seamer is concerned.
“I still don’t have it in the bullpen either,” he said.
So, let’s recap. Hernandez’s two seamer has deserted him. His game plan when he takes the mound, everything preached to him from spring training onward, involves establishing his fastball and working off that. His two-seamer doesn’t work for him. So, what type of fastball is he going to rely on? Why, his four-seamer, of course. Explains why he’s thrown so many of them early on. If you know your two-seamer is terrible, you’re going to go with the other fastball in your arsenal. Seems pretty clear.
The strategy hasn’t worked all that well of late. But what is Hernandez to do? Does he abandon everything he’s been building his game around? Or does he keep sticking to the plan, hoping his command comes around and he can consistently get hitters out?
I’m not trying to oversimplify this, just spell out the problem in language everyone can understand. It should also be mentioned that Hernandez, while giving up a season-high 12 hits tonight, did go six innings and notch six strikeouts. He only allowed four runs. It wasn’t a disaster of an outing.
And he is only 21. No, he is not an “ace” yet. Not by a longshot. He is a kid with one 12-win season behind him and a whole lot of potential. The potential do do what he did in early April on a consistent basis throughtout future seasons. Just not right now. But at 21, he is going six innings per start and battling to keep his team in the game. I’m not buying the team Kool-Aid here, just stating the facts.
I was fortunate to see Roy Halladay through his entire stage of development in Toronto. At age 21, Halladay got his first taste of the majors as a September call-up in 1998. He was one out away from a no-hitter in only his second start. Do you know how many years it took Halladay after that to establish himself as an “ace”? Three more years. Four seasons. Halladay spent 1999 and 2000 learning the ropes, just like Hernandez now, only not as successfully. By 2001, his game had fallen apart and he had to reinvent his game and psyche at Class A ball. It wasn’t until 2002 that Halladay became a 19-game winner.
In 2003, he won 22 games and the Cy Young Award.
In other words, give Hernandez a break. Please. He is not this team’s savior in 2007 and should never have been viewed that way. The fact that he was a 12-game winner at age 20 is something to be celebrated. That he is already about two years ahead of Halladay in his development is also something that truly excites me. At age 21, even Halladay could seem immature. Didn’t rob banks or anything, just goofed around at times, was a little insecure. He was 21. Just like Hernandez.
But by age 25, Halladay had the maturity of a 40-year-old. If Hernandez wants to reach Halladay’s level, he’ll also have to work a whole lot harder physically than he currently does. Yes, he’s working out. But he’s not in Halladay’s league in that category. It will come, if he wants it. But it takes time. It’s easy to talk about the sacrifice it takes to win. But until you see Halladay waking up at 4:30 a.m. in spring training to work out before the workouts, you can’t compare Hernandez to him. Hernandez is only 21. Keep saying it and hope one of the older pitchers steps up while this “kid” tries to regain his command and his confidence.

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