As it was all but confirmed last night that James Paxton was joining the team in San Diego to start, we all had a fun evening/morning speculating what it could be. Pushing the rotation back for more rest in what could be a longer season than normal? Moving struggling Wade Miley to the bullpen? Early season trade? An unfortunate game of telephone that started with Jerry Dipoto whispering "trollop blames Saxon" to Jeff Kingston?
None of those were correct, and instead it was one of the saddest combinations of words in baseball: Felix Hernandez has been put on the disabled list.
Hearing the #Mariners will place Felix Hernandez on the 15 day DL with a right calf strain.— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) June 1, 2016
The move is retroactive to May 28th, which means if his "calf strain" is fully healed Hernandez may only miss a couple of starts. I put calf strain in quotes, that's probably overly dismissive. Felix DID spend the majority of 2015 hobbling around as though there were something wrong with this lower half, and he IS thirty now. I went for a seven mile hike on Sunday and I still feel like my legs are perpetually about to liquefy beneath me.
It could very well be a calf strain, as the team says. It could be that Felix, so long a seemingly inexhaustible workhorse, just needs a break. It's no secret that his 2016 is on pace to be one of the worst seasons of his career. His peripherals are all off from their career norms, he just gave up six runs to the Twins, etc. Perhaps worse than the lows of this season has been the seeming lack of highs. Outside of a vintage start way back on April 10th against Oakland where The King struck out ten over seven innings, even Felix's better starts have been marked less by his trademark dominance and more an ability to dance out of trouble.
With Felix aside, the team will look to James Paxton to step up and give this team a few quality turns through the rotation. There aren't many better parks for Paxton to land a first start than Petco, and although the Padres have some right-handed batters with the power to punish mistakes, Paxton's velocity has apparently returned to the mid 90's in his time in Tacoma.
Paxton has shown the ability to succeed in the major leagues. However his complicated mechanics, and inability to consistently locate make for an extremely volatile pitcher. From start to start, inning to inning, Paxton can look in turns amazing and utterly hopeless. But in this new era of Mariners baseball, the one where the team leads Major League Baseball, the Mariners largely only require their starting pitching to keep them in games. Paxton should, theoretically, be able to do that, at least a few times through the rotation.
It's a sad day, because Felix is mortal, and now the team is acknowledging it. It's also sad because it doesn't feel like this is a crippling blow. It's weird, but if Felix is going to get hurt a part of me wants this to be devastating for the Mariners. It should be a crippling, life altering, D-Day headline font-type event. Instead, it feels somewhere between the loss of Tony Zych and Leonys Martin. It feels like a temporary set back, the short term loss of a contributing player on a playoff caliber team. It is, but it's also not. It's FELIX FUCKING HERNANDEZ, and time can kiss my ass.