For 10 straight years, Felix Hernandez has been the Seattle Mariners’ starter on Opening Day, making him one of only seven MLB pitchers to start a decade’s worth of season openers. Since debuting for the Mariners in 2005, Hernandez has become synonymous with Seattle baseball like Ichiro and Edgar Martinez, but in a little over a week, his era will come to a symbolic end. For the Opening Day matchup between the Mariners and A’s in Japan, Hernandez won’t be the starter.
This comes as a surprise to nobody, really, not even Hernandez himself. But still, it’s a real bummer hearing him trying to process his career’s decline. Via AP:
Asked if he was upset, Hernandez said simply, “Yeah,” but declined to elaborate on his emotions.
“I knew it was going to happen,” he added.
Hernandez was also asked if he could have convinced Servais to give him the opening day nod with a better spring camp.
“No,” he said while shaking his head contemptuously. “No.”
Last season, Hernandez barely looked like a Major League pitcher, putting up an ERA of 5.55 and a FIP of 5.18 in 28 starts as he was briefly removed from the rotation in August. Three spring training starts haven’t shown any signs of a turnaround, as Hernandez has an ERA of 15.95 and a WHIP of 2.18 in a pretty painful 7.1 innings, including a five-run fourth inning in his final appearance on Sunday where he couldn’t get a single out.
Hernandez is in the final year of a seven-year, $175 million contract, and given how long it just took for Adam Jones to find a team this offseason, it feels extremely unlikely that any team would look to sign a run-down 33-year-old Hernandez as a free agent next year. I don’t envy Mariners manager Scott Servais, who, even on a team that looks to finish towards the bottom of the AL West, is going to have to figure out how to balance sentimentality with realism in handling King Felix. Hernandez deserves a farewell tour as much as anyone else, but if he’s struggling to get outs even in spring training, I worry about how disastrous his final real-season starts could be. He’ll be the number-five starter for Seattle to begin the year, which projects to give him a first start on a low-stakes Monday night home game against the Angels. Depending on where he goes from there, this season could either end up being extremely awesome, or very sad.