Félix Hernández was the best part about the Mariners today. It’s been years since that was definitively the case, and yet today, even in a 1-0 loss, The King’s performance stood out. One poor pitch to Ian Kinsler was the difference, but it can’t be overstated - this Félix, and the similarly decent Félix we’ve seen so far this year, is one that has a future. That future is based around command, curveballs, and consistency, and for the first time since his pre-injury blip of decency 2017, that Félix appears to have emerged.
Today he threw 75 pitches (57 strikes) through 7.0 IP, getting 13 whiffs, mostly on the curve and changeup, but even a couple on an especially lively sinker came through.
He’s pitched in the zone all season, refusing to give opponents baserunners and minimizing the damage of the hard hit contact his lower velocity makes him susceptible to. Today was, simply, the best he’s looked in a very long time.
The King peppered the corners of the zone, throwing 29(!) curveballs, using the breaker as his leading pitch in essence. Just 20 sinkers and 17 changeups, as well as a few cutters gave Félix an almost Mike Leake-like vibe. In keeping with the Leake parallel, Félix once again was a groundball machine, getting over 50% of his contact pounded into the dirt where it could do little harm. His changeup had an extra bit of separation on its velocity today, sitting more 83-84, which may have also helped it move a bit more devastatingly.
King Felix, Filthy 83mph Changeup. pic.twitter.com/knhhxks7jA— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 24, 2019
It’s not just one thing, because one thing can’t make Félix this good anymore. It has to be several things, but today it was. The pitch mix was good. They were well-located. Félix got a first pitch strike or a ball in play on 20/25 batters he faced. Just one walk was issued, and he even pitched around poor defense to keep the game close. His ERA/FIP are both now sub-4.00, and his K/BB will help him weather the occasional dinger party at his expense.
It is an absolute crime that Félix’s effort went unrewarded today, as the offense was muffled once again by Chris Paddack. Performing a matinee of the show they displayed in rehearsal when the Padres came to T-Mobile Park for a pair of exhibition games, the offense was hoodwinked by Paddack. Domingo Santana and Daniel Vogelbach managed the day’s only hits, and the 1st inning proved to be the only threat of the afternoon. To their credit, the M’s didn’t chase much. Keeping to 2019 form, they worked on pitches in the zone, but those still were too much to handle.
Of particular note, Mallex Smith’s nightmarish start continued. Depending on your metric, his contact numbers are down a little to a decent amount, and pitchers keep pounding him in the zone, daring him to beat them. A couple awkward swings, a strikeout, and two feeble groundouts aren’t the reason the M’s lost today, but his struggles stand out brutally on a roster with an otherwise hole-proof lineup.
There was a point this offseason where I felt deeply concerned that this year would be the last time we saw Félix start consistently, and whether he returned to Seattle or journeyed off to a team with a roster spot to spare, he’d be unable to put it together again. But through five starts and 25.1 innings, this Félix maybe, just maybe, has another act ahead.