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<  Shannon Drayer

Felix Hernandez, better than perfect?

By Shannon Drayer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – It looks like Felix Hernandez got all of the bad out of the way during his bullpen warmup before Sunday's start against the Rays at Tropicana Field.

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Felix Hernandez struck out a career-high 15 batters while allowing four hits and no runs over seven innings Sunday. (AP)
"Oh my God it was bad," he said of the session. "Changeup was up, not even moving. Sinker was okay. But, you know, in the game it was different."

Yes, if by different he meant spectacular.

Seven innings later he would have seven zeros on the board and a new career high in strikeouts with 15. How good was he? The opposing manager who saw him perhaps at his best two years ago had some thoughts on that.

"I thought Felix had better stuff today than when he was perfect against us in 2012," Joe Maddon tweeted after the Mariners' 5-1 win.

One-hundred pitches, 64 changeups or breaking balls, and then that was it. While 100 pitches is not normally a threshold for Felix, scoreless games bring added stress to starters, and while he appeared to be cruising heading into the seventh, he did have to fight off two batters with a runner on third in that inning. He struck both hitters out to get out of the inning, but manager Lloyd McClendon wasn't taking any chances with Felix in the eighth.

"He was spent," McClendon said. "He used everything he had to get us out of that inning. When you have an emotional inning like that, you usually are going to have a letdown that next inning and I just didn't want to see that happen."

"He told me that was a stressful inning for you and that was good enough," Felix said after the game. "And I said, 'All right, you're the boss.' "

Felix didn't come away with the win but he did come away with a new career high in strikeouts. He also climbed higher on the list he entered after his last start – the top 100 in career strikeouts – jumping into 97th place with 1,809 while passing Hall of Famers Pud Galvin and Hal Newhouser along with Tony Mullane. Next up on the list: Cliff Lee with 1,813.

We are watching special stuff right now with Felix. For the season he has pitched 98 innings and given up 26 earned runs, three home runs and 17 walks while striking out 106 and putting up an ERA of 2.39. These numbers are well ahead of his numbers through 14 games in 2010, the year he won the Cy Young Award.

He needs them to be if he wants a chance at duplicating his 2010 numbers. That year his best came at the end with an incredible run during the final two months of the season as he allowed just eight earned runs over his last 10 starts. It is safe to say, however, that he is off to a much better start, and by the eye test alone he very well could have better stuff this year with increased velocity on his fastball.

It was a special start on Sunday in what could be a special season for Felix Hernandez.

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