We’ve been hearing it said that this offseason would be different for Félix Hernández since the moment The King walked off the mound for the final time in 2016. Today (or yesterday, technically) we learned much more about the schedule Hernández will be on. Félix will head down to his hometown of Valencia, Venezuela and join the Navegantes del Magallanes this December, a team in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League (LVPB). The work in the LVPB will help build up to pitching in the World Baseball Classic in March for Venezuela, after which he will join the Mariners in late March to lock in for the season.
There are a few things worth addressing here. Firstly, who are the Navegantes del Magallanes? Their name translates to the Magellan Navigators, referring to the (relatively?) nearby Strait of Magellan. One story tells that, while gathered in a bar to determine the club’s name, the bar owner shouted out a reference to the treacherous Strait, saying their team would “crash all the other clubs.” They are essentially the Mariners South, even down to a rather cool naval logo and an excellent color scheme.
They are a storied team with roots going back to 1917. They can boast a tradition of diverse teams with several MLB players in the past, and have won 12 LVPB champio- oh fine we will skip to the mascot romance.
Capy and Lola sound fun. What're they usually up to?
Welp, I think that largely makes this article NSFW, sorry y'all, or perhaps you're welcome? Oh dear.
If you are interested in keeping close tabs on Félix and his new, temporary team, the Magallanes official Twitter has over 580k followers, and, while in Spanish, does occasionally reveal some gems that transcend language. For instance, their coaching staff appears to have dug through the 1977 Mariners’ closets and found what they liked.
The other, more long-term takeaway is that Félix is going to be pitching off a mound more than he usually does. That could be good news, and could also be scary. I am inclined to lean more positively.
There is a lot of conflicting opinion about what is healthiest for pitchers in terms of 12 month conditioning. The science seems pretty clear that for youth and even young professional pitchers, throwing fully off a mound year round increases the risk of injury. If you are still growing it is simply more dangerous for you to thoroughly stretch and strain your muscles in ways that your growth may come into conflict with.
That danger is lessened for 30 year olds, but of course the worry of deterioration begins to creep up on the other side. Jerry Dipoto assures that Félix and the Mariners have been communicating about a general workout plan, and they do have the final say about his participation this winter. Considering they intend to work him in slowly with Magallanes and his work will max out in the pitch count regulation crucible that is the World Baseball Classic, the process seems as safe as possible. In 2009, the last time Hernández pitched in the WBC, he came out afterwards and made the leap from young stud to Cy Young contender, making his first All-Star game and started 34 games.
Félix has had physical and mechanical breakdowns the last couple years, which are undoubtedly connected. Pitching is an unnatural motion that can destroy you at any moment, but for all his sprains and strains, Hernández has done an excellent job avoiding arm-related injuries in the past decade.
*runs outside and starts pounding on every tree and wooden bench in sight*
Sorry about that. Anyways...
If he is physically healthy, which we have to assume he is at this point, then he is in a place to begin making mechanical adjustments. Flat ground bullpen sessions and long toss are all well and good, but you simply cannot compare the benefits to actually getting on a mound and throwing, especially against live competition. My worst year of baseball was my junior year of college, when I tried to push through an injury, but couldn’t throw off a mound in between starts. The deterioration mechanically was swift, and was as detrimental as the physical struggles.
Félix has not been a player who throws off the mound between starts, and he usually starts his mound regimen later in Spring Training than most pitchers. That has been totally fine, because pitching is a load of nonsense and Byung-Hyun Kim and Mariano Rivera were both very good at it so if your way works that rocks.
When your way doesn't work, however, it is important to look at what has worked for many, in the larger sample size of life, even if you are a beautiful, incomparable outlier like Félix Hernández. If Félix makes good on his word that he is committed to the plan of getting stronger and more focused this offseason, as this step seems to be, then we are one step closer to the return of The King.