The most important series of the year for the Seattle Mariners got off to an inauspicious start on Friday night.
Fresh off a nice series win against the Cleveland Indians, the Mariners took on the reeling Houston Astros with a chance to gain some ground in the AL West standings. Seattle got blown out 10-0 in the first game of the series, eventually losing two out of three.
Making things worse was the fact that Felix Hernandez started that blowout. Hernandez turned in the worst outing of his career, allowing eight runs while recording just one out.
Two starts before that, Hernandez allowed seven runs in 4.2 innings of work against the New York Yankees, by far the worst start of his season to that point. Sandwiched in between was a strong start against the Tampa Bay Rays, but there is a high level of concern about Hernandez’s recent form.
While it’s unclear exactly what is going on with Hernandez at the moment, the Mariners need him to bounce back immediately to have any shot at salvaging the season.
It should be noted that a few defensive miscues hurt Hernandez in the Houston meltdown. Willie Bloomquist was unable to come up with two makeable plays at short, while a throwing error by Hernandez himself helped the inning spiral out of control. Still, Hernandez allowed two walks and two home runs in the third of an inning, so he very clearly didn’t have it on Friday.
The biggest problem for Hernandez in those two bad starts has been his command. In addition to those two walks on Friday, Hernandez walked a season-high five against the Yankees and even walked three in his seven strong innings against the Rays.
Hernandez needs to figure out what’s causing the command issues as soon as possible. The biggest concern would be that he is pitching through some sort of injury at the moment.
On multiple occasions this season, Hernandez has appeared to tweak something in his legs or ankles, which could be having an impact. Still, the Mariners’ training staff would know his situation better than anyone and remains comfortable with him continuing to pitch.
The more likely explanation is that Hernandez had a couple of off days that just happened to occur around the same time. Hernandez has been so good and so consistent for a decade that it’s easy to foget that even he can have the occasional bad outing.
Madison Bumgarner had the exact same line in a start a few years ago. Clayton Kershaw gave up seven runs in 1.2 innings in a start last year and won the MVP award. Even the best in the game can have a disastrous outing every once in a while.
If Hernandez struggles with his command over the next start or two, then it’s time to start worrying more about a long-term issue. Expect Hernandez to be back to his usual self on Wednesday against Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants.
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