By Shannon Drayer
Felix Hernandez is scheduled to throw just four innings today and in those four innings all eyes will be on the radar gun. Throughout the spring Hernandez's velocity has been down. According to Pitch f/x he averaged 90.70 mph with his fastball in his final start in Peoria before leaving for Japan. In Tokyo the stadium radar had him mostly at 144-145 kilometers per hour or 89-90 mph with the fastball.
The drop has caught the attention of Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis. He has watched Felix closely and talked to him as well and feels that the velocity we are seeing is not the result of a physical problem.
"To this point there are no red flags on the physical side," he said. "We have talked to him. He says he feels fine, that there are no problems, and we have to trust that."
"The delivery is intact," he continued. "He has command, he has movement. When you don't see a lot of difference in delivery there is not a lot you can do but trust the player that he is fine and doesn't have any problems."
The velocity is the only thing that Felix appears to be missing. He has built up to over 100 pitches and his movement and command are there and have been all spring. I asked Willis just how aware Felix was of the drop in velocity and he said he didn't know. One thing is for sure, Willis does not want Hernandez focusing on it.
"It is a fine line because when you start addressing velocity that is when it becomes their focus and they lose command of the pitch and that action," he said. "As long as you are assured it is not a health issue then you just go with it."
Go with it they will but that doesn't stop Willis from wondering just what has happened to the velocity.
"Is it the weight loss?" he asked. "I don't know. [CC] Sabathia always said he felt stronger when he was heavier. Even if it is just a mental thing, it translates."
Willis also pointed out that Felix's routine has been different this spring. The past two springs he was brought along slowly and started Cactus League games later than the other starters. The Mariners did not have the luxury to do that this year.
Then there is the Felix aspect.
"Obviously he doesn't throw as hard as he did when he entered the league but it is a tick down from last year," Willis said. "I have had kind of in my mind once the season starts, the lights come on because he kind of thrives on that and generally you see guys velocity pick up a bit when things start to count, that might still happen. It is different because it was in Japan, not a Safeco, not the same as it is in the states, it still may come."
For all we know it could come this afternoon. If it doesn't, Willis will not press the issue with Felix.
"As long as his delivery doesn't suffer and he doesn't have any physical complaints we will just see if more comes back," he said. "As long as he commands the ball, he throws five different pitches, gets different action. You just have to do your homework and be assured he is healthy, that's my biggest concern."