After pitching seven seasons for the Seattle Mariners, ace Felix Hernandez has learned that wins aren’t easy to come by. Not only are the Mariners notoriously known for being a subpar offensive bunch, but the bullpen is more likely to blow a close, low-scoring game.
That event transpired last night, as King Felix’s eight-inning masterpiece went to waste in a 2-1 defeat for the Mariners at the hands of the Cleveland Indians in Safeco. Just 12,942 fans saw another terrific performance from Hernandez, but the M’s still lost the game.
Hernandez allowed just five hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in those eight scoreless innings, earning a Game Score of 83. The opposing pitcher, Josh Tomlin, also lasted eight innings and allowed five hits. Tomlin threw 96 pitches (126 for Felix Hernandez) and allowed one run with no walks and seven strikeouts (Game Score of 75).
Closer Chris Perez shut down the Mariners in the bottom of the ninth for his fourth save of the season, after Brandon League failed to do the same to Cleveland. Although he is a quality reliever (1.4 WAR last year) and has turned into a good closer, League will have games like this (eight meltdowns last season). He allowed two hits and two walks in his 0.2 innings, and he ended up allowing the only two runs of the game for the Indians.
Third baseman and No. 8 hitter Jack Hannahan went 2-4 with two RBIs in the game, with those two ribbies winning this 2-1 contest. He singled to left field in the bottom of the ninth, on a grounder that was agonizingly close to being a double play and the end of a close ballgame. Instead, League blew his first save since August 23rd (also against the Indians), and the Indians went on to win the game on Hannahan’s hit that scored Carlos Santana and pinch-runner Aaron Cunningham.
This game featured a great pitching duel between Felix Hernandez and Josh Tomlin, with the Indians starter impressing on a night when he had to pitch against one of the best in the game. Tomlin had a great game on the mound, but Hernandez- the former 2010 AL Cy Youngwinner- was spectacular and dominated the Indians hitters. In fact, he induced 15 whiffs that night and had a WPA of .522 that bested Hannahan’s mark of .496.
Michael Saunders (2-3, R) led the way for the Mariners offensively, with one of those hits being one of the four doubles that the Mariners hit. Travis Hafner finished 2-4 for the Indians and drew a walk with a .200 WPA overall- he also doubled. The Mariners, by the way, were just 1-9 with runners in scoring position and played without young star Jesus Montero.
Although Felix Hernandez was dominant in a duel with Tomlin, the Seattle Mariners fell to the Indians and were unlucky with that grounder Hannahan hit.
Some are starting to point to King Felix’s declining fastball velocity as a cause for concern, especially since his best pitch his a changeup that is nearly as fast as his fastball. The slightly decreased fastball velocity has slightly hurt him, but he is still at least a 5.5 WAR starter (his total last season).
In 29.1 innings this season, Felix Hernandez has a 2.12 FIP, and he has a fastball velocity of 91 (93 last year) and a changeup velocity of 87 (89 last year). It’s still early to tell if his pitches are getting slower, if it is statistical noise, or if he is just pitching slower on purpose for some odd reason. It hasn’t affected him this season, as Hernandez’s change is as nasty as ever.
The problem is that his fastball’s effectiveness and whiff rate is relative to his velocity. His changeup has actually been better, but his fastball was mediocre last year after being sizzling in 2009 and 2010. We must watch Felix Hernandez closely to see how he approaches hitters, because he has become slightly more hittable despite getting more hitters to chase. Hernandez is still a great pitcher, but there is a chance that there is more to this than numbers.
Either way, he looks better this year than last year and should be worth 6 WAR with a sub-3.00 ERA. I’m not too concerned about the decline in velocity, because King Felix keeps on proving that he’s one of the best.