Felix Hernandez may have had a rough couple seasons recently, but he wants the baseball world to know he’s not going anywhere.
Hernandez, a right-handed pitcher who spent the first 15 seasons of his MLB career with the Seattle Mariners, is now 33 years old fighting for a spot in the Atlanta Braves’ starting rotation.
His final game with the Mariners back in September 2019 was an emotional one, with fans thanking the ace who signed with the team all the way back when he was 16 and won the AL Cy Young Award during his tenure. Coming off the worst season of his career, where he went 1-8 with a 6.40 ERA, Hernandez was able to ink a minor league deal with the Braves in January, which included the invitation to spring training.
This Tuesday, Hernandez made his third start of spring training. It was a strong performance for the King, despite an eventual 5-2 loss against the Tampa Bay Rays. He tossed four innings, allowing four hits and one run. He ended the outing with 60 pitches, 37 of them strikes (and two strikeouts).
O'Day is replacing Hernandez who ended with 4IP 4H 1ER 2BB 2K. He threw 60 pitches, 37 of them strikes #GrapefruitGators
— Cassandra (@cassrswartz) March 3, 2020
Hernandez stressed after the game how much better he feels this season than last.
“I feel healthy,” said Hernandez. “I feel really, really good.”
Although turning 34 next month, he feels confident that he has years left in the tank.
Hernandez chose to sign with the Braves knowing he’d have a challenge ahead of him to make the starting rotation. According to the pitcher, he picked them because of how strong the team is. The Braves have won the NL East in back-to-back seasons.
And to the critics who doubted whether King Felix would be able to become the Comeback King, he has a message.
“I don’t have to prove anything…. I’m just going to go out there and compete.”
Manager Brian Snitker had high praise for Hernandez after his four-inning performance.
“That’s a guy that knows what he’s doing,” said Snitker. “He can maneuver through a lineup; he can execute pitches.”
Snitker didn’t have concerns for Hernandez’s age, saying his ability to change and adapt his game makes up for the other elements he may have lost over the years.
“[He] keeps hitters off-balance,” Snitker said.
Opening day is March 26, and it is looking more likely that Hernandez will have secured a starting spot with the Braves when camp ends.
His path is made easier by the shoulder injury of veteran lefty Cole Hamels. The Braves signed Hamels in December, a month before Hernandez got his deal. Hamels received the injury in January, and the team has no idea when he will be able to even start tossing the ball around.
To the fans out there who might find it odd to see Hernandez out of Mariner-blue after so many years, he doesn’t have the same concerns.
“I think the red looks good on me.”