We’ve got just over a month of season still to play, but right now, Felix Hernandez of the Mariners is threatening to run away and hide from the American League Cy Young Award race pack.
Hernandez is statistically in a bit of a dead heat with Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, with David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays probably close behind the pair. But realistically, Hernandez is on the verge of blowing both off the map with his finishing kick.
Starting with a June 17 matchup at home against San Francisco, Hernandez has gone 9-0 with a 1.40 earned run average and held opponents to a .183 batting average against. He’s struck out 100 batters and walked only 17 over that span — a near 6-to-1 ratio.
This type of performance, going on nearly 2 1/2 months, has been unsurpassed.
Verlander is 7-3 with a 2.40 ERA, a .205 batting average against, 97 strikeouts and 24 walks over roughly the same span. Price is 8-1 with a 2.09 ERA and .201 batting average against with 92 strikeouts and 20 walks.
Both totals by Verlander and Price are exceptional. But they are both easily eclipsed by what Hernandez has done.
No, you don’t win a Cy Young based on your results from mid-June through August 27 of any given season. But I’m using these dates to demonstrate just what type of a sustained run Hernandez has been on to not only catch the best pitchers in the AL when it comes to judging this award, but likely to blow on by them over the season’s final month.
Photo Credit: AP
Simply put, if he continues anything even close to this pace, Hernandez will be unstoppable. And I’m not seeing anything that leads me to believe this is about to stop anytime soon.
Last night was a huge test after the leadoff triple in the seventh inning by Justin Morneau in a scoreless game. But Hernandez simply wasn’t going to allow the Twins the run. He did all he had to do with those three groundball outs.
Part of me could not help but reflect on two years ago, when Hernandez lost a 1-0 game to Toronto while throwing a two-hitter. That game, more than many others, likely helped solidify Hernandez’s first Cy Young bid simply by demonstrating to the baseball world how helpless his plight was in trying to secure wins for a team that couldn’t score.
Right now, Hernandez appears to have taken his game up a notch from that 2010 season. I’ve never been a believer that a pitcher can will his way to a win. I mean, let’s face it, Hernandez could have lost last night’s game had Morneau’s ball been hit about five feet further and over the wall. Could have lost it had one of his infielders flubbed a ground ball in the seventh. Part of it is luck, sure.
But Hernandez this year is doing more to give the appearance that he can will himself to victory than any pitcher I’ve ever covered — including Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter and others. In other words, score two runs, Hernandez won’t give up more than one. Score one, Hernandez won’t allow any.
Sure, there’s no real proof any pitcher has that ability. Hernandez just makes it look like he can do it.
And for all the luck it requires to not have an infielder make an error behind you, the keys to success for any pitcher in baseball requires knowing what weapons you have at your disposal and using them at the right time. Hernandez didn’t have to try to strike everybody out in the seventh. He knows he has a good defense and made the pitches needed to generate ground balls. Pitchers who can do that tend to pile up more complete games. Unlike, say, back when Hernandez first broke in to the majors and had trouble getting past the middle innings despite — or maybe because of — his double-digit strikeout totals and the high pitch counts that came with those.
Being economical is the key to lasting success for any pitcher. And Hernandez appears to have mastered that part of his game. Yes, he can still reach back in his pocket for a strikeout. But only when it’s truly needed. Not to impress people with. That’s part of what they call the increased maturity of a pitcher. It isn’t about showing off the glamor stats. It’s about doing the smartest thing at your disposal to get the win. And last night, in a scoreless contest, it was most important for Hernandez to get through that seventh inning and finish the game. Because the Twins were barely touching him. Why risk turning things over to the bullpen if you don’t need to?
Just as an indicator of how well Hernandez has pitched the past 2 1/2 months, take a look back at his 2010 season. He won the Cy Young that year with an August-September finish that convinced voters to ignore his win total. You have to remember, by August of that year, Hernandez wasn’t even a part of the Cy Young discussion.
His stats those final two months? A 5-1 record, 2.40 ERA, .212 batting average against, 71 strikeouts and 26 walks.
That was over less time than the roll he is currently on. And those numbers, as good as they were, are nothing close to what he is now doing.
Hernandez hasn’t just jumped into the lead of this Cy Young race as we prepare to head into the final stretch. If he continues at this clip, he could very well wind up lapping the field.