All good things must come to an end.
For longtime Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, that includes his decade-long streak of making opening day starts.
According to ESPN’s Marly Rivera, manager Scott Servais informed Hernandez that he will not be getting the ball when the Mariners open up the regular season against the Oakland Athletics on March 20 in Japan. On Saturday, the Mariners announced that Marco Gonzales would get the nod.
Scott Servais makes it official. Marco Gonzales will start March 20 game against A’s in Tokyo, ending Felix Hernandez’s streak of 10 straight Opening Day starts. Yusei Kikuchi will pitch second game in Tokyo.
— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) March 9, 2019
Seattle’s decision ends what had grown into one the longest opening day streaks in MLB history. Last season, Hernandez became the first Mariners pitcher, and only the seventh pitcher overall to start an opener in 10 consecutive seasons. Hall of Famer Jack Morris holds the record with 14 straight opening day starts from 1980-93.
Hernandez has traditionally been dominant in the role too, posting a 1.53 ERA and 0.77 WHIP in 11 opening day starts overall. During his remarkable streak, Hernandez allowed no more than one earned run six times, including 5.1 scoreless innings against the Cleveland Indians last season.
But there’s a lot more to Seattle’s decision than history and tradition. It’s about facing reality.
Why Felix Hernandez's streak is ending
Hernandez, who turns 33 on April 8, is no longer the best or most reliable pitcher on Seattle’s staff.
That has been a tough pill for Hernandez to swallow, but truth is he’s gone into a steep decline since 2016. The effectiveness that made him a Cy Young Award winner in 2010 and six-time All-Star is steadily eroding, to the point where some believe his days as a starter should be over.
Hernandez has posted a 5.13 ERA over the last two seasons, which spans 242.1 innings. Injuries have played a part too, limiting him to 69 starts dating back to 2016. The overall grind of making 30-plus starts every season from 2006-15 has seemingly caught up to him, and the timing couldn’t be much worse with Hernandez’s contract set to expire following the season.
“I know this is my final year, but I don’t think I am done,” Hernandez said at the beginning of spring training. “I think I can do a lot of good things, and it is going to be a push for my Hall of Fame career. It means a lot. Now Edgar (Martinez) is in the Hall of Fame. We’ll see.”
It’s clear Hernandez is plenty motivated. Friday’s news should only add fuel to that fire. But a return to his previous form, or anything close to it, will be an uphill battle.
Who will emerge as the Mariners new ace?
With Hernandez in decline and James Paxton traded to the New York Yankees, the door here is wide open. In addition to Gonzales, the Mariners also have veterans Mike Leake and Wade LeBlanc. If we’re being honest, there won’t be ace in that group.
The team is probably pulling for Japanese rookie Yusei Kikuchi to step up into that role, but there will definitely be an adjustment period.
Regardless of who steps up and when, 2019 will mark the end of era in Seattle.
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