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June 3, 2012 at 9:08 PM

If Mariners have any doubts about Felix Hernandez, they should put him on the DL right now

Felix Hernandez is going to hate me for writing this. Hernandez is a guy who learned early in his career that it’s important for a staff ace to take the ball every five days. And believe me, for a guy of 26, Hernandez has learned plenty in a short amount of time.
He’s not the same pitcher I first met in 2006. Now, he’s a staff ace and a Cy Young Award winner who knows the price he has to pay for those titles. He knows what’s expected. And stepping down when his team needs him is not an option.
That’s why this decision cannot be left in his hands. The Mariners have to make this call. And if they have any lingering doubt whatsoever about Hernandez’s physical status, they should put him on the 15-day DL right away.
Here’s why.
This isn’t only about the “tweaking” of his back he is said to have suffered in the second inning of Friday’s game. A development he is still apparently having some trouble overcoming, just a few days from his scheduled start in Anaheim.
For me, this is about getting Hernandez back to being Hernandez. No matter how much Eric Wedge tries to sugarcoat it, this isn’t the same Hernandez we’ve been used to seeing. This isn’t the same guy who took the mound in 2009 to win 19 games (and who would have been the Cy Young winner nine times out of 10 that year too if not for a phenomenal season for the ages by Zack Greinke). This isn’t the same Cy Young winner we saw dominate in 2010 despite a horrific season by his team.
This Hernandez, by his own, lofty standards, has been ordinary just a bit too much.
Maybe it’s nothing serious. Perhaps the few miles per hour off his four-seam fastball is just something he’ll learn to live with. Perhaps that two-seam sinker that doesn’t sink every now and then can be fixed with some mechanical tweaks.
The advanced stats suggest this might be just a matter of his giving up a few more flyballs and getting “unlucky” on them turning into home runs. His xFIP (Fielding Independant Pitching adjusted for an average home run rate on fly balls) is 3.37 and that’s exactly what it was during his 19-win season in 2009. But still, I’m not totally buying it. It seems more and more like this year, he’s loading up on good stats against some very bad clubs while being made to look human by the better ones.
The Hernandez we saw in Chicago on Friday night, like the one who showed up in Cleveland a few weeks ago, or was recently beaten by the Yankees and Angels, is making appearances just a little too often. And that does nobody any good.
It doesn’t help Hernandez, or his legacy. And it doesn’t help the Mariners.
Right now, what might help Hernandez is a return to the way the Mariners used to deal with him. The way they used to safeguard his arm just enough so that the future wasn’t compromised. Whether that be the immediate future of finishing a season, or the long term stuff where the words “Tommy” and “John” in the same sentence are verbotten.
That’s why, right now, if the Mariners have any doubts at all, they should put Hernandez on the DL and sleep soundly at night.
Photo Credit: AP

Let’s face it, there’s already a pretty good chance Hernandez won’t make his Wednesday night start in Anaheim. Why the Mariners would risk sending him out there is beyond me. He’s already been taken down once by a good-hitting Indians team and just recently got thumped by a hot-hitting Chicago squad.
Why risk another beating by a red hot Angels squad when he won’t have had his usual between-starts regimen to prepare with?
After all, this season is already done from a competitive standpoint. The Mariners are eight games under .500, trying to fight their way out of last place in the AL West and any real progress being made these days is on the offensive side — where Hernandez has zero impact.
The money you’re paying Hernandez now is a sunk cost anyhow. And if the idea is to build trade value for him — which is always an option — you’re not going to do that with the Hernandez 2.0 version we’ve been seeing in recent weeks.
Better to have the guy from 2009 and 2010 heading out there every five days to throttle the good teams as well as the bad ones.
If the Mariners are unlikely to start him in Anaheim, then he might as well go on the DL. That way, if there’s nothing seriously wrong with him, the most he’ll miss is one more start in addition to the Wednesday one in Anaheim.
That’s because there is an off-day on Thursday and another one next Monday. The Mariners can push everybody back a bit and actually start Hernandez on June 16 if they need to. There’s a ton of flexibility in the upcoming schedule. If they just backed everybody up accordingly based on the off-days, the latest he’d start is June 18.
That’s a small price to pay.
The Mariners have Erasmo Ramirez and Andrew Carraway they can choose from in Class AAA as replacements right now. In this development year, getting a look at a young pitcher isn’t the worst thing. If those guys aren’t rested enough after recent minor league starts, cobble together a combined bullpen outing, then call the AAA guy up after that.
And Hernandez can get the kind of mid-season rest he used to get for his arm.
He’s still only 26. A rest wouldn’t kill him. But if there’s something wrong with him physically, continuing to run him out there just might.
Hernandez can use the time — even if the physical stuff is only minor — to get himself back to full health and also to work through the mechanical issues that may be causing his sinkers not to sink at key moments.
Frankly, I’d like to think he has a 96 mph heater tucked away in his back pocket for emergencies. I don’t think he does. If he did, he would have used it in Cleveland a few weeks ago. And in Chicago last Friday.
I’ve listened to people make comparisons between Hernandez and Freddy Garcia. Meaning, a highy-talented-but-flighty pitcher consigned to bouts of normality. I no longer buy into that. Maybe in 2007, or 2008, I’d have considered it. But Hernandez, in a normal decade, would have two Cy Young Awards right now. He is not Garcia. He is better than that and has proven it.
But he is also still a notch below some other guys out there that he should be right up with on an historical level. Guys like Roy Halladay, Chris Carpernter, Cliff Lee, who have either won multiple Cy Youngs, or have won one and excelled in post-season play, or thrown a perfect game, or all three. Forget the stats. From a legacy standpoint, as good as he is, Hernandez won’t be remembered like those other guys if his career ends tonight.
That won’t happen, of course. Hernandez’s career is still going and should for some time.
His stuff is good enough that he can still get through the Minnesota Twins or Oakland Athletics for eight innings of one-run ball most times out.
But I don’t want to see him become Freddy Garcia. Or another Bartolo Colon. Just another good pitcher with flashes of brilliance.
I want to see Hernandez fulfill his destiny by being great for a long, long time. By being a Hall of Fame candidate. He’s already partway there. But the guy who got there has been missing for a while. All great pitchers have their off years and it could just be as simple as that in Hernandez’s case.
But why take chances?
If there is any doubt at all, sit Hernandez in Anaheim, skip him one additional start after that and use the DL time to look at a young starter and make sure that Hernandez pieces together the mechanical issues he says are dogging him.
You’ll still have three weeks left in the first half and an entire second half of the season to go after that.
And Hernandez will get over it. As mad as he’ll be about me writing this, or the team even thinking of going ahead with what I’m suggesting, he’s smart enough to figure out it’s his best interests everybody has in mind.
Eventually, that is. He’ll eventually figure it out. Just like he did when the Mariners skipped his final start of 2010 with a Cy Young on the line. He didn’t like it at the time. But the world didn’t stop turning then and it won’t now.
For now, though, cooler heads have to make the call. Take the decision out of his hands. And again, if there’s even a smidgen of doubt about the back, the arm, or anything else, use the DL and use it wisely.
The reward? Maybe it’s seeing a potential Hall of Fame pitcher every five days like we used to instead of once a month. Sounds worth it to me.



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