It was an off year for the Mariners, Felix Hernandez. The former Cy Young and six-time All-Star, was neither in Cy Young or All-Star-ish form in 2016. He set career-worsts for strikeouts, home runs per nine innings, hit by pitches (hitting batters) and walks per nine innings; and this was in his most injury prone season in twelve years.
What we saw from the Mariners, Felix Hernandez this season was often unsettling. His control was sporadic. The movement on his pitches was sometimes unnoticeable, and, most importantly, the heat from his fastball didn’t have the same sizzle.
These observations were made throughout the year by everyone in the Mariners announcing booth, the dugout and even within Felix himself. It was impossible not to spot his frustration if he had a bad inning or an overall bad outing. The special flair he had when he threw would disappear when he was disappointed.
But is a bad year -two if you include the beginning of his decline in 2015- enough evidence that, at
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thirty, this is the end of the King? Not if you ask him. At the end of the season Hernandez adamantly proclaimed:
"“The last few years have not been Felix years. I am prepared for (the work). I am going to go there and show everybody in the world, if they don’t believe in me, that I am going to be King Felix again.”"
If you’re a Mariners fan, you love to hear that kind of fight from your former star player. And, to make matters even better, the King already seems to know one of the key changes he needs to make. This is what he told the press:
"“I’m going to talk to my strength guy and see what we can do,” he said. “I need to get stronger in my legs. I don’t think it’s going to be a lot of difference. Just a different workout.”"
Luckily, he’ll get to work with one of the best pitching coaches in baseball, Mel Stottlemyer, during the long off-season. We saw an example of Stottlemeyer’s genius when Taijuan Walker revamped his mechanics and became a dominant force after what he called, “rock bottom”.
The drive to become his old self is important to Hernandez. After seven shutout innings against the Toronto Blue Jays in late September at Safeco Field, Hernandez bounced off the mound at the end of the inning and shouted, “This is my house”.
Safeco has long been his kingdom. He has had the Kings Court there for years to confirm that. There is no doubt that pleasing the court and the rest of the Mariners faithful makes his upcoming changes all the more important to him.
For a player like the King, who has been the staple of the organization for over a decade, it’s hard not to believe what he says. With the assistance from the great pitching staff and Hernandez’s dogged determination, why couldn’t he be a new, old King?