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Was that enough from Félix?

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Félix Hernández was challenged last night more than he’d ever been in his career. He responded... fine.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Let me preface this by saying the responsibility for last night’s deflating loss hardly rests on the shoulders of Félix Hernández. The offense put up three runs against an overmatched “Opener”, a pitcher who literally couldn’t escape the first inning against the Mariners’ AAA team a few weeks ago, and Joe Biagini. It would be more appropriate to say Nelson Cruz put up three runs, since Seattle’s stalwart DH was once again the offense’s pilot light, ignition, and other appropriate fire-related metaphor noun. Just as damning, the middle of the bullpen recently was reconfigured to handle a situation just such as this, and where a 2-2 game could have been an exasperating 3-2 victory, it instead slipped to a 7-3 trouncing.

But before the game slipped away to the delight of a sea of Blue Jay bleu, the focus of the night was Félix. After a decade of (deservedly) doing what he wanted, the way he wanted, the King’s body has failed him. Whether you believe in the slow-roof conspiracy or simply that all those innings were bound to catch up with him, in the 14th year of his rule Félix has looked more serf than scion. A 5.49 ERA, 4.72 FIP, and erratic command despite excellent movement. It was the same last night as it has been all season.

It’s still uncertain if his performance earned him another turn through the rotation, but I’m hard-pressed to say I was convinced. As has been the case for three years, the stuff, while continuing to lack velocity, showed movement and life. Félix’s pitches share a near-identical velocity profile with his teammate Mike Leake, yet has been unable to replicate the former Cardinal’s decency due to a lack of command. That was on display again last night as Félix skirted the edges of the zone, and three edges in particular.

Everybody get up, except Félix.
Baseball Savant

This is not an inherently bad pitch chart. Few pitches were left right down the middle, and Félix was able to weasel his way out of trouble a few times thanks to avoiding serving up many meatballs - a lone tasty morsel to Justin Smoak was all that stood out - and he was especially cautious with runners on-base. But that chart tells the story of the King’s limitations for the past three seasons.

Here is Félix’s pitching heatmap with a two-strike count from 2005-2015:

Baseball Savant

And here it is from 2016 through last night:

Baseball Savant

The general ranges are similar because the ideal location for Félix’s arsenal remains the same. His changeup and curveball are best served just below the zone. But the zones have drifted lower and further from the zone recently. When there’s no offering to pair with those and threaten elsewhere, even an elite pitch like the King’s changeup is defanged. While Félix has never managed to refine a slider or cutter into a pitch that would allow him to work up and in on lefties/up and away on righties, even a limited fastball up above the zone can serve as a change of pace.

Félix wasn’t going to rediscover his velocity last night, nor likely even display more consistency with his mechanics, but the game-plan could have changed to give him a shot, and it didn’t. Félix tiptoed around a decent but not-overwhelming Blue Jays lineup and could have given up anywhere from 0-to-6 runs with better or worse batted ball (and, in one particular Kendrys Morales at-bat, called strike fortune) luck. Instead he gave up two runs in 5 IP. It was okay. Was it enough?

Poll

Was Félix’s start enough to earn him another time in the rotation?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Yes, and he should be there for the rest of the season.
    (198 votes)
  • 37%
    Yes, but next start should be another make-or-break.
    (425 votes)
  • 19%
    No, put him on the "DL" and bring him back to start once he’s gotten a chance to do a couple minor league rehab starts.
    (223 votes)
  • 24%
    No, bring on Erasmo, send Félix to the bullpen/DL for the rest of the year, and DFA Nick Vincent.
    (276 votes)
1122 votes total Vote Now