Felix Hernandez got lit up bad in Cleveland the last time out with Jesus Montero behind the plate. Tonight, he’ll have a new battery-mate as John Jaso gets to catch him in a regular season game for the first time.
Catching Hernandez and all of those heavily-moving pitches is never an easy task. We saw Montero have some problems in the Cleveland game, giving up a passed ball that led to an Indians run.
Hernandez had problems of his own that had nothing to do with Montero. He could not use his two-seam fastball to any degree of effectiveness. And when a sinker doesn’t sink, that’s bad news for a pitcher — especially Hernandez, who has come to rely on the pitch as his bread-and-butter.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said the Cleveland game was just a bad day for Hernandez and he’s ready to leave it at that. Wedge expects a much better outing tonight as Hernandez gets prepared to take on Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers.
“I think he’s a guy who’s at his best when it’s tougher, when it’s tighter,” Wedge said. “He’s one of the best. And when he’s facing good clubs, or in tight situations or when his team needs it most, that’s when he’s at his best.”
Many of you have noted — as has the media — that Hernandez’s four-seam fastball seems to be down a couple of miles per hour from where it generally was the past couple of seasons. It is also down from the 96 mph he used to crank it up to five years ago.
Now, it’s one thing not to have velocity on your four-seamer when your sinker is moving the way it’s supposed to. But when you don’t have an effective sinker and you have to rely on the four-seam fastball more, the hitters know this, too. And it’s a little easier to fool hitters sometimes when you can just overwhelm them with 96 mph stuff rather than doing the same with a 92 mph pitch they can catch up to.
Anyhow, I’m no pitching whiz. But it really isn’t that complicated. Some have asked me whether I think Hernandez really does have the same velocity and is just trying to conserve some juice to make it through the season.
No, I do not. For the reasons I just outlined.
If he really did have a 96 mph heater he could just reach into his pocket for when he truly needs it, you’d have seen him throw one in Cleveland the other night when he was getting rocked and could not get the final out of the fourth inning.
So, in other words, just cross your fingers and hope he has a good sinker tonight.
Speaking of the catching situation, Miguel Olivo will be behind the plate for Class AAA Tacoma tonight, then DH tomorrow, then catch again on Wednesday. After that, the team will proceed accordingly.
Wedge said the team needs Olivo to go nine innings in a AAA game before he’d consider activating the catcher off the DL. Back-to-back outings are not necessarily going to be needed, but as he said, Wedge will re-evaluate after Wednesday.
I don’t know that Olivo will get as much playing time as he had before. There’s less reason now that Montero and Jaso have been baptized by fire and are used to getting their work in behind the plate. That said, I’d be surprised if Olivo isn’t catching four or five games per week to start off.
The team waited three weeks to get his bat going the last time, then got to reap the benefits for nine days of hits before he went down with a groin injury. The reason Olivo played so much during those first three weeks was because there was a need to get his bat jumpstarted and you can’t do that from the bench. And in the first three weeks of April, there isn’t much concern about a veteran catcher wearing down from overuse. Not that early on.
But now, coming off an injury, there will be concern about overusing Olivo. Also, as we move from May into the warmer months, the concern about fatigue carrying over to the plate and behind it will be more legitimate than in April.
So, he’ll get regular playing time. Just likely a little less than before for the reasons I just stated.
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
CF Josh Hamilton
3B Adrian Beltre
DH Michael Young
LF David Murphy
RF Nelson Cruz
C Mike Napoli
1B Mitch Moreland
RHP Yu Darvish
2B Dustin Ackley
CF Michael Saunders
3B Kyle Seager
DH Jesus Montero
1B Justin Smoak
C John Jaso
LF Mike Carp
SS Brendan Ryan
RHP Felix Hernandez