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August 3, 2007 at 10:06 AM

Before Jones, there was Hernandez

Well, this ought to be an interesting day, no? What do you think? Will Adam Jones hit three home runs tonight? Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a rookie this hyped for a season debut, or call-up. I remember when Roy Halladay came up with the Blue Jays back in September 1998. Nothing like this — and he was one out away from a no-hitter in his second start for them.
Anyway, just to correct some misperceptions a couple of you may have had: Raul Ibanez did not say anything negative about Adam Jones. Our discussion after the game on July 31 was strictly about Ibanez himself, not about Jones. The headline in today’s story may have misled a few, since it stated that the “right fielder” questioned the call-up, meaning Jose Guillen, who was quoted further on down in the story. But the story led off with left fielder Ibanez, so a few of you may think he was the one who had a problem with the call-up. Not at all the case. He may have a problem with it. But I doubt he’d ever say it out loud if he did.
Also, for “Cubby” where did you get the idea I’ve tried to mislead people about why Julio Mateo was traded? I’ve always said it was about the assault charge. I ranted and raved about how he should be gotten rid of when it first happened and then later congratulated the organization for sticking to its guns where others may have held their nose and kept him to pitch. You must have me confused with somebody else.
On Barry Bonds, you folks have it wrong. I really could care less. I’m sure I could. But I just can’t be bothered to waste energy thinking of how. He isn’t worth my time.
Anyway, on to this morning. With all the fuss raised over the 22-year-old Jones, I think that the performance the other night by a guy one year his junior kind of got lost in the shuffle. I am talking about Felix Hernandez, who turned in the best performance of his career against the Angels and deserved to come out of it with a victory.
We went after Hernandez on this blog and rightfully so a couple of weeks back when he twice let his temper get the better of him on the mound and may have cost his team a pair of defeats. In this latest outing, his demeanor was the exact opposite. There were two occasions when he could have let his head and the game get away from him but did not.
The first was when Ben Broussard made like a steamroller to Hernandez’s asphalt during that fourth inning collision. The second came when a Garret Anderson home run off Hernandez in the seventh inning turned what looked like an easy win into a one-run nailbiter. On both occasions, Hernandez picked himself up and limited the damage.
Los Angeles scored a run it should not have scored on the collision and another one after that as a direct result of extra bases taken. Take away those two runs and the homer and Hernandez was otherwise flawless. And that was important because the four runs he did give up all counted. This was the biggest game the franchise has played in several years and Hernandez did what big game pitchers do. He saved his best stuff for when it mattered and did what it took to win the game.
It doesn’t matter that he’s had better lines than four runs allowed over eight innings. His team had a 7-4 lead with three outs to go when he left the game. If he does that, his team wins those big games 99 times out of every 100.
Hernandez looked like a staff ace on Wednesday. If he learns from those two experiences of last month and battles the way he did the other night, this year will have been a success no matter what his final record is. Yes, he is only 21 and that’s a crutch he can fall back on and that the organization has given him. But it’s not enough. This team needs a staff ace, or something close to it, going forward this season. Miguel Batista alone isn’t going to get the job done. Nor Jarrod Washburn. Hernandez gave the team eight big-game innings when it needed them most the other night against the team Seattle has to beat.
No other starter can say they’ve done that this year.
These are the things that potentially make Hernandez so special. I mentioned Halladay up above and it bears repeating: Halladay was the same age Hernandez is right now when called up to the Blue Jays in 1998. I remember the Toronto PR staff making a huge deal about how young Halladay was at the time. Well, this is already Hernandez’s third season pitching in the major leagues. His second complete big-league season. He is far ahead of where Halladay was at the same age.
And the game we saw on Wednesday was the next step in Hernandez’s evolution. Forget that one-hitter in Boston earlier this year. The game against Los Angeles saw Hernandez demostrate both physical toughness, staying in the game after a hard blow to the ribs (never an easy thing to shake off, trust me), mental toughness in shutting the Angels down after Anderson’s home run, and big-game endurance by pitching eight innings of winning baseball.
It was a major step towards becoming that ace everyone envisions.
I wish Adam Jones all the best and know that he is walking into a very difficult situation pressure-wise. But in a way, Guillen is right. As of right now, there is only one Mariner aged 22 or younger who has proven anything at the game’s highest level.



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