Of all the questions surrounding the Seattle Mariners this season – Why can’t they hit at Safeco Field? How can you play Brendan Ryan when he’s batting .157? – the biggest has been this:
What’s wrong with Felix Hernandez?
The staff ace and former Cy Young Award winner is 4-5 with a 3.70 earned-run average in 13 starts, and opposing hitters are batting .260 against him.
As discouraging, his fastball, which once touched 97 mph, is averaging 92 mph and has topped out at 93.
No one seems certain, but on Sunday Felix will unveil a slightly different windup – one he and pitching coach Carl Willis tinkered with in a bullpen session this week.
“I’ve always stood on the mound facing home plate before I start my windup, and Carl noticed I’d been facing third base this year,” Hernandez said Friday. “I’ve been trying to figure out what’s happening, so I tried something different in the bullpen.”
It wasn’t just facing home plate.
“I’d been turning a little too much in the windup, more than I had last year, so I shortened that,” Felix said. “I’m not turning as much.
“That’s just in the windup, not from the stretch, but it felt good.
“By turning too much, my arm wasn’t catching up with my body, and when that happens, my pitches come up,” he said. “In the bullpen, by shortening that turn, I could keep my pitches down.”
Felix said all that didn’t mean all his issues had been solved, but that it should make a difference.
“We’ll see Sunday,” he said.
A day after making his 2012 debut, center fielder Franklin Gutierrez slid into the second spot in Seattle’s lineup, dropping second baseman Dustin Ackley to seventh.
“We want to get Dustin going, and taking a little pressure off him is part of it,” manager Eric Wedge said. “We’re a more balanced team this way. With Ichiro, Dustin and Kyle Seager 1-2-3 in the lineup, it allowed starting pitchers to get into a rhythm against the lefties, and left us vulnerable to the bullpen.
“Now we’re back and forth – lefty, righty, lefty, righty.”
Ichiro began the night two hits short of 2,500 in his career, and when he reaches that plateau he’ll be one of only 24 players in major league history with 2,500 hits and at least 400 stolen bases. The American League has produced only seven such players: Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Tris Speaker, Paul Molitor, Luis Aparicio, Rickey Hernderson and Johnny Damon. … The Mariners are on a streak of successful base-stealing, and since May 15 are 25-for-30 in stolen base attempts. In that span, Michael Saunders is 6-for-7, Ichiro 6-for-6, Ackley 4-for-4 and Ryan 3-for-3. … Think Tom Wilhelmsen likes closing games? In games in which he has worked in the ninth inning or later, he has held opposing batters to a .104 batting average, and hitters are 5-for-48.
Seattle hosts the San Francisco Giants in a 7:10 p.m. game that will be televised on Root Sports. Probable starting pitches: Tim Lincecum (2-7, 6.00 ERA) vs. Kevin Millwood(3-5, 3.57).firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @LarryLaRue