The Seattle Mariners entered the 2017 season with no shortage of questions. Their offseason was a huge roster overhaul, with GM Jerry Dipoto remaking almost half of the 40-man roster. Would the new players deliver? Was Dipoto’s vision correct? Could the Mariners break MLB’s longest playoff drought?
Those are all valid question, but none of them is the most important question for the Mariners this season. That question is: Can Felix Hernandez return to his old form?
King Felix makes his third start of the season Friday night at Safeco Field, as the M’s host the Texas Rangers. You can see how Hernandez does right here, as it’s our Free MLB Game of the Day on Yahoo Sports. You can stream the game — for free — on the Yahoo Sports MLB page, on our Free Game of the Day tab or within this very post once the game starts at 10:10 p.m. ET.
A Felix Hernandez start at home used to be cause for mass celebration in Seattle, where Hernandez fans wear matching T-shirts and flood a special section of the ballpark when he pitches. This time, there’s bound to be a little more caution about Hernandez, who is coming off arguably the worst seasons of his stellar career.
Hernandez threw a career-low 153 innings last season, partially due to injury. His ERA was up to 3.82. It hadn’t been that high since he was 21 years old in 2007. In 2016, his strikeouts were down, his walks were up and his homers-per-nine-inning rate was the highest of his career.
Could that all have been King Felix not feeling right? Maybe. But he’s also 31 now and coming out of his prime. So far the returns in 2017 haven’t been spectacular either. He lasted just five innings in his opening-day start. He only allowed two runs, but left early because of a groin issue. In his second start, against the Los Angeles Angels, he threw six innings and gave up three runs, but also allowed 10 hits.
Simply put: We’re not sure who Felix Hernandez is at this point. Can he rebound in 2017? Or is he starting a slow decline?
Not to help matters, the Mariners haven’t been very good this season so far. Their 2-8 record is worst in the AL West. But as we’ve established by now, getting a better version of King Felix would help that moving forward.
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