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May 9, 2013

What You Need to Know

King of the Hill

by Daniel Rathman


The Wednesday Takeaway
Remember when the Mariners gave Felix Hernandez a record-setting seven-year, $175 million extension this past offseason, and then news of a possible elbow injury surfaced, and then Hernandez’s first Safeco Field start since the payday briefly stirred concerns that the annual 230-plus inning workloads were finally taking their toll? The right-hander’s fastball may no longer touch the mid- to high 90s, as it did during his first few major-league seasons, but his last five starts have left no doubt that King Felix is still King Felix.

In yesterday’s matinee at PNC Park, the 27-year-old Hernandez stymied the Pirates over eight innings of work, keeping pace with A.J. Burnett until Jesus Montero’s solo shot gave the Mariners a decisive 2-1 lead. Hernandez’s fastball only averaged a tick over 91 mph, but his secondary offerings baffled the Pirates from beginning to end, as 26 of his 33 changeups, curveballs, and sliders went for strikes. With virtually everything working, Hernandez needed only 97 pitches to record 24 outs, before Tom Wilhelmsen cleaned up the ninth inning to earn his ninth save.

And as impressive as Wednesday’s outing alone was, it has recently become the norm for Hernandez, who has now finished the eighth in four of his last five starts. Hernandez’s five strikeouts were his lowest single-game total during the recent stretch of dominance, in which he has pitched 38 innings and amassed a 40-to-2 K:BB while allowing only one home run. That’s good for a 1.60 FIP, which is fitting, since Hernandez’s ERA was 1.60 coming into yesterday’s series finale. It now sits at 1.53 and has dropped with each of his last five trips to the mound.

Next up for Hernandez is a visit to the Bronx, where he spun a two-hit shutout last August 4. No pitcher can boast a lower ERA at the new Yankee Stadium than King Felix’s 1.13 mark, which the righty will try to maintain on Wednesday, assuming the Mariners stick to their current rotation. 

Matchup of the Day
Phillies lefty Cole Hamels, who signed a six-year, $144 million extension last July, hasn’t been sharp in his first seven trips to the mound this season. Hamels, who typically exhibits excellent control and command of his arsenal, has seen his walk rate tick up from 6.0 percent last year to 9.0 percent so far in 2013, while his strikeout rate has declined from 24.9 percent in 2012 to 21.1 percent this year. As a result, Hamels’ FIP has climbed to 4.42, and even though his .240 BABIP suggests good fortunes in the early going, his ERA stands at a pedestrian 4.34.

The 29-year-old Hamels enters this evening’s assignment against the Diamondbacks with strong career numbers in the hitter-friendly Chase Field, where he has won four of five games and amassed a 3.38 ERA and 0.81 WHIP, both aided by a superb 33-to-5 K:BB. But manager Kirk Gibson’s roster saw significant turnover this offseason, and among the new hitters with whom Hamels will need to contend is Cody Ross. The 32-year-old Ross, who spent the 2012 season with the Red Sox, has been a pest to the southpaw dating back to his National League East days with the Marlins, and he pounded Phillies pitching in the 2010 NLCS, earning MVP honors in the process.

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