Are we finally seeing the long-awaited emergence of King Felix, the dominating ace?
It could well be. Over his last five games — since being called out by Don Wakamatsu after that miserable Angels game on May 19 — Felix Hernandez is 3-0 with a 0.72 ERA. That’s three earned runs in 37 2/3 innings, with 34 strikeouts.
Those are ace numbers. If you’ll recall, Wakamatsu was very upset after the Angel game, in which Hernandez gave up 11 hits and six runs in 5 2/3 innings in a 6-5 loss. What seemed to irk Wakamatsu the most is that Hernandez allowed five stolen bases. Here’s what he said after that game:
“Sometimes, you’ve got to ask guys to step up. I didn’t think he stepped up today.”
The two met, and whatever was said seemed to have hit home. Here are some quotes from Wakamatsu after tonight’s game, in which Hernandez pitched a two-hit shutout in Seattle’s 5-0 victory over the Padres.
“Felix was outstanding. Obviously, you look for a guy of his talent to be a stop-gap guy when you go on a little losing streak, to be able to step up and pitch the way he did. He’s pitched well over the last five or six starts.
“It’s the little things, where he still continues to control the running game. I thought he did a better job today of controlling his aggression. Sometimes when he gets out there too aggressive, he gets out of whack.
“He had great stuff. He had command of all his pitches, even ’til the end. I thought he had great poise on the mound. Just a tremendous effort. He was probably down to his last hitter, and he got him out. We had Aardsma down there, just pitch-count wise.”
Of the post-Angels meeting, Wakamatsu said: “I saw a difference when we talked to him after the Anaheim game. I think it just struck a nerve with him about going out and competing the right way. Ever since then, he comes ready to pitch, he’s focused. I’d have to rip him off the mound to get him out tonight.
“We talked since spring training — everyone talks about how good he can be. We talked about our expectations and his expectations now. It has a lot to do with the little things — controlling the running game, becoming more efficient. It’s not just going out and competing. It’s trying to be more intelligent. And from that point, I’ve seen a different pitcher. I’ve seen a guy that comes out and is ready to compete for his team.
“I think he’s seen some success in what we’ve talked about and the amount of work that goes into it. Our job as a coaching staff, if we see anything, is to make sure that doesn’t get out of whack.
“It’s tough for a guy that’s 23 years old, to ask him to mature over night. We said, ‘This is a plan, a, b and c, that will allow you to do that.’ He’s bought into that, and he’s worked extremely hard.
“You just never know. Sometimes, those meetings can be awfully sensitive, and offend some people. But the bottom line is, I think he really understands at this point we care about him, and we care he has success.”
Felix was much less forthcoming about the meeting. All he said was, “He only told me about the running game and the baserunners, but the thing now is I’m more aggressive. I attacked the strike zone. I threw a little bit harder. ”
Felix was quite effusive after the game, clearly very excited about his performance.
“It was ok. Not bad,” he said with a smile. “But I was mad because I didn’t get a hit. I worked a walk. That was an outstanding at-bat.
“I felt pretty good today. All the pitches were there. I had great command after the first inning.”
I told him that Wakamatsu said Brian Giles, who grounded out to end the game, was his last batter.
“Huh? Huh?” he replied, in mock anger. “Hell, no. Not till I was ready.”
Later, he said, “Nobody was going to take me out. Nobody.”