Felix Hernandez is given the smackdown

After last night’s game, Mariners’ manager Ken Wakamatsu criticized his putative ace, Felix Hernandez:

“Sometimes you’ve got to ask guys to step up. I didn’t think he stepped up today.”

This afternoon, the Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker lays down the serious artillary fire. After an extended recap of Roy Halladay’s career arc and an assertion that Hernandez should be doing the same things Halladay did and does, Baker says:

The point is, we’re getting to the stage where maturity has to stop being used in the same sentence as Felix Hernandez. It’s still a valid excuse to a certain point. But that point is getting slimmer and slimmer. Which is why Wakamatsu called him out last night. He’s trying to fire Hernandez up. Hernandez does care about being a staff ace — that much I’m certain about. Those of you who say he doesn’t care really have no clue. I’ve seen him up close. He sounded casual last night, but you could tell he was mad at himself. That’s all fine and good.

But when you’re the staff ace, that’s not enough. When a team is relying on you to stop losing streaks and win, it’s not enough to try. You have to get the job done. You have to execute. You have to hone your routine to the point where it brings you that consistent level of excellence and things like delivery times are not even a concern.

If it sounds a little unfair, then maybe it is. But that’s the price of being a staff ace.

From reading both Baker pieces, the game story, and about a million comments from Mariners fans, I’ll agree that no, Hernandez probably wasn’t as prepared for last night’s game as he should have been. He was easily distracted when runners were on base (and there were a lot of runners) and, as Dave Cameron notes, he didn’t bring out his highly effective changeup for some reason.

Still, it seems like a bit too much piling on one guy for a team that is loaded with problems right now. No one except Russell Branyan and Ichiro are hitting this year. They’ve got only three starters, one of whom you have to figure will turn into a pumpkin soon, and their closer has been atrotious. To lay everything at Hernandez’ feet like Baker seems to be doing here is a little too much for me.

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Comments

  1. Mark said...

    WHEN is somebody in Seattle gonna figure out that the problem here is not Hernandez—it’s Johjima! Somebody needs to look at King Felix’s record with different catchers. He and Johjima are so obviously not on the same page, and it’s obvious in the boxscore. But when he pitches to a different catcher, he’s a world-beater. It’s really that simple.

  2. Capper said...

    No one is “laying everything at Felix’s feet”…..Geoff and Dave are pretty much right on.

    Lets look at this….Felix is 23, which is young, but he is not a rookie, or second year player…in fact he has almost four full years of MLB time (if you combine his starts this year with those in his rookie year).

    Felix is a phenom, and handling a phenom is not an exact science…see Doc Gooden among others. So in trying to handle him delicately, the M’s really shot themselves in the foot. Felix has been a diva since day 1, the M’s have pampered him way too much (Remember when he showed up to camp looking like he ate Bartolo Colon?). So right there we have the recipe for disaster, a kid who knows he’s special and a team that didn’t “crack the whip” with him and pampered him too much….and now they are paying the price.

    Felix has the talent, but like Nuke LaLouche he doesnt seem to understand it takes more than talent, it takes some smarts as well. And this is becoming an all too familiar topic for us M’s fans…Felix teases with a masterful performance, then follows it up with 3-4 head shakers like last night where he throws 2 changeups the whole game.

    Just because the team is rebuilding, and playing poorly doesn’t give everyone a pass…..you still expect people like Felix, Ichiro, and Beltre to play to a standard.

  3. Michael said...

    While I agree that Felix needs to grow up to some extent, I would fall closer to Dave Cameron’s well-researched conclusions (which Hernandez himself has actually read and heeded in the past, if only temporarily) and far, far away from Geoff Baker’s old-fashioned “be consistent” and “be more like THAT guy” approach. (Baker, lest we forget, is the witch-hunter who pumped the “Ichiro as clubhouse cancer” scenario last year. To date, zero players have suggested they’ve ever incorporated HIS advice.)

    Felix IS still young – remember, it took a guy named Randy Johnson five seasons and age 26 to morph from Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn without the glasses into the first-ballot Hall of Fame lock he is now – so hopefully Felix will mellow with age, and maybe in the meantime the M’s can leverage his current inconsistency into a slightly lower-priced multi-year deal.

    And the “Johjima is the problem with the M’s pitching” theory has already been debunked, by no less than David Cameron.

  4. Michael said...

    Oops, but wanted to add one important point: Wak was absolutely right to try and light a fire under Felix.

    He seems, so far, to be good at that (case in point: Betancourt’s visibly improved hustle last night after being called on the carpet). Players listen to him and seem to like him, which makes him effective. He can’t spin straw into gold or give Betancourt the ability to discern strikes any less poorly, but he’s about as effective as anyone could expect a manager to be.

  5. Capper said...

    Good God, Does Cameron’s Wife know about you two? Seriously, the guy is married….take down the shrine already.

    “While I agree that Felix needs to grow up to some extent, I would fall closer to Dave Cameron’s well-researched conclusions (which Hernandez himself has actually read and heeded in the past, if only temporarily)”

    Really? You know that Felix read that? Link? Proof? Or more likely, Felix heeded the advice of someone working with him regarding something that MANY people not named Dave Cameron noticed.

    As far as the Ichiro thing, I think Baker was more right than wrong (we already know JJ Putz and a few others have spoken out)…..I just think that people want to run their mouths without taking responsibility for what they say. Seriously, we know Ichiro is all about his stats….so what?

    “Felix IS still young – remember, it took a guy named Randy Johnson five seasons and age 26 to morph from Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn without the glasses into the first-ballot Hall of Fame lock he is now – so hopefully Felix will mellow with age, and maybe in the meantime the M’s can leverage his current inconsistency into a slightly lower-priced multi-year deal.”

    The problem is that baseball history is full of guys with Felix’s stuff, guys that never amount to much of anything because of their mental makeup. To me, Felix is still young, but he is at the crossroads……he can make the changes necessary and take the next step as an ace, or he can be the next Bartolo Colon, another guy with great stuff who never quite reached his potential.

    Its obvious by your post (and the Geoff Baker shot) you are one of the USSM Kool-Aid drinkers…….maybe think for yourself, form your own opinion sometime. Dave and Derek do a great job with the USSM, but they are right and wrong like anyone else.

  6. Capper said...

    Ok, he read the open letter…….but my point was that a LOT of people saw the issue, a lot of people mentioned it, it wasn’t as if your hero was the only one……although I’m sure you’ll argue otherwise.
    Nice resat of your argument……typical USSM drone…bash every other opinion, unless you need money for Dave’s college fund, then you are tolerant and sweet as sugar.

    Seriously, wanna know why everyone outside the 25-30 regulars hates you guys? Because you cant seem to understand that a lot of the points made there are the same as ones made other knowledgeable baseball people, just from a different perspective. But thats not the bad part, the bad part is that you guys think you have the game all figured out, that you know more than anyone else……and if anyone ever disagrees with something, they are either censored, chased off, or bashed into submission.

    I enjoy some of the USSM stuff, I read it frequently, but very rarely post. I enjoy the inque looks at things, I enjoy reading a different opinion, but what I dont enjoy are whats becoming an almost daily bashing of Geoff Baker (Who I look at as a run of the mill sports journalist)…..its almost childish. I see them ban people for taliking about Lincecum, and cencoring any post they like, but they never seem to delete the posts bashing Baker…..stay classy USSM.

    Sorry if I made you cry all over your Dave Cameron doll, or DMZ poster….. it wasnt my intent, but seriously man…….

  7. Capper said...

    Nope, never banned….I just rarely post over there. Makes no sense to post unless you are in complete agreement with the crowd.

  8. Capper said...

    “I enjoy some of the USSM stuff, I read it frequently, but very rarely post. I enjoy the unique looks at things, I enjoy reading a different opinion, but what I don’t enjoy are whats becoming an almost daily bashing of Geoff Baker (Who I look at as a run of the mill sports journalist)…..its almost childish. I see them ban people for talking about Lincecum, and censoring any post they like, but they never seem to delete the posts bashing Baker…..stay classy USSM.”

    How do you get I was banned for personal attacks out of that? Just curious. I made a comment about how people with different opinions there are treated, and also commented that I rarely, if ever, post.

    But anyway, but on topic…….

    I think Felix has the physical tools to be mentioned as one of the 3-4 best pitchers in baseball. At this point, 4 years in, i don’t know if he has the mental or emotional tools…..and my point was that that separates the good pitchers from the great pitchers.

    For everyone that blames Johjima, or the coaching….stop, at some point you have to look directly at Felix and see that he himself is the problem. Granted, he is only 23, but after 4 yrs of mismanagement by the M’s (Have they ever managed a pitcher well?), Felix is dangerously close to slipping into that area where pitchers are talked about as “What could have been”. Stuff makes him a good pitcher….but the mental aspect will put him over the top…..and I, and a lot of other people, just dont see that development from him….its the same mistakes, the same bad inning, the same loss of focus all the time.

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