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August 20, 2010 at 8:36 PM

Felix Hernandez knew he had no shot at complete game; still causes big buzz in Big Apple

Felix Hernandez told us after the game he knew he wouldn’t get the complete nine innings in once he reached 101 pitches through seven. Hernandez said Jose Lopez greeted him in the dugout after the seventh and asked whether he thought manager Daren Brown might pull him.
“No, I think I’ve got one more,” Hernandez replied.
But there was no big lobby job by Hernandez after the eighth. He fanned Mark Teixeira with a runner on — his 11th K of the game — and pumped his fist like a guy who knew it was Mission Accomplished.
“I knew,” Hernandez said.
Was he hoping at all for the ninth?
“Nah,” he said. “They told me before.”
Meaning, previous games. Earlier this season, against the Yankees pre-All-Star break, Hernandez was allowed to go 126 pitches. Prior to that, versus San Diego in mid-June, he went 128.
The New York media here, for the most part, seemed vocally puzzled that new manager Daren Brown was pulling Hernandez after eight with his pitch count at 117. They’re big on their history here in New York. Everyone knew no one had thrown four consecutive complete games against the Yankees since Dave Stieb did it 26 years ago. Stieb is safe.
And why wouldn’t they be surprised.
They’d just seen World Series winner Joe Girardi leave A.J. Burnett out there for 122 pitches through six innings of a game that was pretty much done by the fourth. Burnett has had injury issues already this year and will be a key part of a playoff rotation.
I asked Brown whether Hernandez had a chance at a complete game once he got beyond 110 pitches in the eighth.
“Nope,” he said. “No. Again, I’ve said it before. This kid’s valuable to our future. I’d love to give him an opportunity to go back out. If he can keep his pitches down a little bit…we’re looking, if he goes back out, at maybe 125 or 130. And that’s maybe, at this pont, a little bit much.”
Ideally, he said, Hernandez would have to be around 100 though eight to get a shot at the ninth. Unless it’s late in the season and the game “has a little bit more meaning” for Hernandez.
The “meaning” could be a shot at a Cy Young Award. Hernandez generated a lot of buzz here tonight.
Some folks think that Cy Young hype/buzz/.whatever only involves media members actually voting on the award for the BBWAA. There are only two in each city.
But that thinking is uninformed. A lot of the media agenda and storyline is set by leading opinion-shapers from right here in New York. If Hernandez was ever going to get folks talking about how a 9-10 pitcher should be considered for the award, this was the place to do it.

I’ve said it before and will keep doing so. Hernandez is a better pitcher this year than he was last season with a better team around him.
He lowered his ERA to 2.51 tonight, second best in the AL. The guy ahead of him, Clay Buchholz with 2.36, has thrown 60 fewer innings. That makes a huge difference and the educated voters know that. Even the uneducated ones do.
There is no Zack Greinke running away with things this year.
Cliff Lee, a guy most people seem to feel is the front-runner, is now ,more than a quarter run and substantial innings behind Hernandez.
There are guys like David Price and C.C. Sabathia who could win 20 games. But Hernandez’s peripheral numbers are demonstrably better.
And we saw tonight what happens when Hernandez gets run support. That three-run homer by Russell Branyan in the first innings was more support than Hernandez has had in any game since before the all-star break.
That is unbelievably bad offense.
“You can’t expect that guy to go out there zero to zero in the seventh time after time,” Branyan said. “It’s going to give sooner or later. It’s a lot nicer to score early with him on the mound. It allows him to relax and settle in to his groove.”
A reporter who appeared to be based in New York (he wasn’t from Seattle, that’s for sure) asked Brown whether Hernandez should be included in Cy Young consideration despite a 9-10 record.
“He was facing one of the best lineups in baseball tonight,” Brown said. “He went out with an eight-inning shutout. That comes up a lot. I know his record. But at the same time, he is one of the best pitchers in the American League right now.
“So, whether or not he gets any consideration, for me I think he’s up there and he showed that tonight.”
So, yes, Brown is indeed on Hernandez’s side. It’s just the side of caution.



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