Felix never tires of mingling with brightest stars
Three-time All-Star hurler no longer just a flame-thrower
KANSAS CITY -- All-Star pitcher. Scuffling team. Such is the stuff that trade rumors are made of -- the type that always seem to crop up this time of year. This All-Star break, few pitchers are generating more trade buzz than Felix Hernandez, the Mariners' lone All-Star in Kansas City.
But Hernandez has two years left on his contract and no desire to go anywhere.
"I like Seattle and I want to help the Seattle Mariners win a World Series," Hernandez said, flanked by the American League's other All-Stars in a media session Monday at Arrowhead Stadium. "I believe in the organization. I believe we're going in the right direction. We'll be better."
If the Mariners are to improve their standing after the break, they will need to rely -- as usual -- on Hernandez. Almost quietly, the American League's 2010 Cy Young Award winner has gone about his business, throwing no fewer than 233 2/3 innings in any season since 2009, striking out no fewer than 217 batters and walking no more than 71. Though he has made the All-Star Game three times over that span, Hernandez has yet to tire of the spectacle.
"Every All-Star Game is a good experience," he said. "It's an honor to be here."
In Arizona last year, Hernandez was not allowed to pitch in the All-Star Game after starting for the Mariners two days earlier.
Hernandez again started the final game of the first half for the Mariners this season, but under Major League Baseball's new Collective Bargaining Agreement, pitchers who throw on the last Sunday are still allowed to compete in the All-Star Game as long as it is agreed upon by their team. Though Hernandez threw 114 pitches while going 7 2/3 innings in his no-decision against the A's, he said he would be eager to participate if called upon.
"If they need me, I will pitch," Hernandez said. "It's my bullpen day, so if they need me, I will pitch."
In Hernandez's first All-Star appearance in 2009 in St. Louis, he needed just eight pitches to dispose of Orlando Hudson, Albert Pujols and Justin Upton in a scoreless sixth inning.
The three-time All-Star is 6-5 with a 3.13 ERA this year, pitching for a 36-51 Mariners team that is again struggling to score runs. Enduring a rough patch midway through the first half when he went 1-4 with a 6.27 ERA over a six-start span, Hernandez made some minor adjustments to his wind-up by reducing how much he was turning his body and aligning himself more toward home plate. As a result, he finished the first half strong, going 2-0 with a 1.75 ERA in his final five starts, while tying Tigers ace Justin Verlander for the AL strikeout lead with 128 in 123 2/3 innings.
"He makes adjustments, which is one of the biggest things," Angels outfielder Mark Trumbo said of Hernandez. "He doesn't just rely on trying to overpower people, which he's more than capable of doing."
A's manager Bob Melvin showered Hernandez with similar compliments, noting that the right-hander has maintained his effectiveness despite typically throwing his fastball in the low-90s these days -- quite a few ticks below the mid-90s heat he delivered regularly at the beginning of his career.
"Early in his career, everything was really hard," Melvin said. "Now, he's got really five pitches, including the cutter that he throws in any count. So I think longevity-wise, he's going to be better for that. He can still tune it up there when he has to velocity-wise, but he's very unpredictable in his pitches now and that's what makes him so difficult."
Melvin knows better than most. Because of Oakland's trip to Japan in April and the resulting quirks in their early schedule, Hernandez faced the A's in each of his first three starts, going 1-1 with a no-decision. As a result, Melvin has the proper perspective to compare Hernandez to the Angels' Jered Weaver, the Rangers' Yu Darvish and the other top pitchers in the AL West.
"I don't think he gets lost in the shuffle," Melvin said. "We've seen him too many times. We've seen way too much of him and he's one of the elite pitchers in the game. I think maybe because they don't score a whole lot of runs, his win-loss record wouldn't be indicative of the way he's pitched. But he's a tough customer, and every team knows the day that he's pitching."
Should AL manager Ron Washington call his name Tuesday, that day will be soon.
"It never gets old," Hernandez said. "It's truly an honor to be here. It's truly amazing."The 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. Pregame ceremonies begin at 4:30 p.m. PT. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
Fans will also have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet via the 2012 MLB.com All-Star Game MVP Vote during the All-Star Game on MLB.com.