SEATTLE — While the nickname “The Kid” transcended Ken Griffey Jr.’s age in Seattle, another Mariners great has also been blessed with eternal youth in this city.
Starting pitcher Felix Hernandez turned 30 last week, but he’s every bit the playful kid he’s always been. When he’ll fully mature into manhood isn’t important, as long as he keeps pitching like an annual Cy Young contender. The bigger question is how much longer he can keep it up.
In his first start as a 30-something, Hernandez put on a vintage performance. He tossed seven shutout innings, with 10 strikeouts and only three hits allowed, in a game that the Mariners went on to lose in extra innings. His dominance was apparent from the outset, as evidenced by Oakland hitter Josh Reddick flipping his bat in frustration after flailing at a third strike to end the first inning.
Hernandez had some brief control problems with a pair of walks in the third, but he got out of that bases-loaded jam and retired 10 consecutive batters before leaving the game 99 pitches into the start.
Hernandez has already thrown more than 2,270 innings over 12 seasons and has shown only subtle hints of age. He had three of the worst outings of his career last season, yet still went over 200 innings for the eighth consecutive year while posting a 3.54 ERA with 191 strikeouts.
Hernandez’s fastball, once regularly in the mid-90s, has lost some juice over the years, but Oakland veteran Coco Crisp is among those who still marvel at his ability to dominate.
“He has movement on all of his pitches and he knows how to pitch,” Crisp said after Sunday’s game. “He’s not just a hard thrower. He knows himself, and he knows how to strike people out.”
Hernandez has had quite a career with the Mariners, but he’s yet to throw a pitch in the postseason. Seattle has the longest postseason draught in baseball, although Hernandez has done his part to try and snap it.
His performance Sunday marked the 90th time since 2009 that Hernandez has gone seven innings or more while allowing one run or fewer. He’s only earned wins in 62 of those games, remarkably, as the Mariners’ offense and ever-changing bullpen has let him down all too often.
Seattle fans have come to expect at least seven innings and one run or fewer out of Hernandez, but how much longer they can bank on that kind of outing remains to be seen. His arm has seen a lot of action for a 30-year-old. Somehow, he’s still getting it done.