Starting pitching: An underrated concern for the Mariners

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 29: Felix Hernandez #34 of the Seattle Mariners acknowledges fans from the dugout after a video was show feature the pitcher during the fourth inning of a game against the Oakland Athletics at T-Mobile Park on September 29, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 29: Felix Hernandez #34 of the Seattle Mariners acknowledges fans from the dugout after a video was show feature the pitcher during the fourth inning of a game against the Oakland Athletics at T-Mobile Park on September 29, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) /
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Mariners fans, as we get close to wrapping up this decade, let’s acknowledge something. In the same season, we sent off our future Hall of Famer rightfielder and starting pitcher. What fitting timing it was. But here is a worry going into 2020 which shouldn’t be underlooked. It’s the fact that Felix’s departure is more significant than people thought.

What I mean is that even though Felix’s departure from the Mariners is the right thing due to his gradual decline in “stuff” and becoming more hittable, it’s still official and that’s something we haven’t had on our shoulder since 2006.

Felix wasn’t the same “old Felix” for years but you know what? He was still Felix Hernandez! Just because an iconic player is declining in dominance and vulnerability at his game, doesn’t take away who he was as a player.

Let’s compare him to the Seahawks Legion of Boom. Naturally, Sherman, Earl, and Kam weren’t as swift as their rookie and sophomore years. Over the years, they were lit up more by opposing offenses and showed signs of slowing down.

But back to the point, they were still the Legion of Boom! Opposing receivers just knowing that Kam and Earl lurked in the back field is enough to make you run for your life back into the locker room. Whether it’s Felix or one of the most dominant secondary trios ever, just their presence alone is the x-factor and makes a difference with the team.

Having a Felix-type player in your clubhouse, even if injured, can psychologically affect a team for the better. Remember when fans patented the term “Felix Day?” Because the man was truly an icon. He wasn’t just the 2010 Cy Young winner who 90% of his starts kept his team in the game. This guy took control of the Mariners’ pitching staff and when you knew the old Felix had his start on the mound, there was always a chance.

Which is why Felix’s departure will hurt more than usual. For the first time since 2005, there will be no more of number 34. So what does that mean for us? It means that we will be without a true ace. Marco and Kikuchi are good building blocks but both are too inexperienced to label as aces or potential aces. Tommy Milone, come on guys, he is a third-hole starter at very best.

Neither Kikuchi nor Marco has had to prove themselves under pressure. You could say the same about Felix since he has still never sniffed October baseball. Except he did have to overcome pressure for most of his starts. He pitched for one of the MLB’s worst offenses multiple seasons and still racked up numerous quality starts.

The man pitched the MLB’s most recent perfect game…with a 1-0 final score! And Felix’s most important start of his career, which he won, came in the season finale of the 2014 season. Felix would have pitched us to a one-game playoff if the A’s hadn’t beat the Rangers that same day to eliminate us from contention.

We still don’t have a proven ace yet and you need one to have a chance at contention. It can take time to build one. And some teams never find one after decades pass. Felix Hernandez was a rare player in that he was a homegrown ace who from the get-go became dominant.

There are three true aces on the free-agent market right now. And don’t expect any of them to become Mariners. If Bumgarner, Cole, and Strasburg sign elsewhere, it won’t be for our Seattle Mariners.

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So until we replace the old Felix and all the magic he showed on the mound, we may have to find a new ace the old-fashioned way. Through hoping Marco can be “it” or finding another homegrown ace like Felix.

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