Felix Hernandez was once one of the best, and most durable, starters in MLB, tallying ten straight years of 30 starts highlighted by six straight seasons with an ERA under 3.50 and at least 200 innings pitched and 200 strikeouts.
His health and skill has gone backwards over the last two years, with Hernandez totaling just 41 starts, 240 innings, 200 strikeouts, and a 4.01 ERA over the last two seasons combined. And unfortunately, his 2018 might be off to a similar path as the last two seasons.
In the second inning of Hernandez’s Spring Training start against the Cubs on Monday, Chicago catcher Victor Caratini hit a liner back to the mound that smashed off of Hernandez’s right (throwing) arm.
According to the Seattle Times, Hernandez immediately left the game and “screamed a loud expletive in frustration” after entering the dugout.
No immediate word was available on Hernandez’s condition, though the Mariners did tweet that he was being examined.
Félix Hernández exited today’s start after being struck on the upper right forearm. He will be examined at the Mariners facility in Peoria by Dr. Rice, who will determine if further testing is needed. #Mariners
— MarinersPR (@MarinersPR) February 26, 2018
Hernandez will turn 32 in April, and is signed through the 2019 season for $53 million. The Mariners also have a $1 million option on Hernandez for 2020, but only if he spends at least 130 days on the DL because of a right elbow injury. He’s spent his entire career in Seattle, making six AL All-Star teams, claiming the 2010 Cy Young award, and finishing as the AL Cy Young runner-up in both 2009 and 2014.
I’m not saying the Mariners are screwed without Hernandez, but they really need a healthy rotation. Only three pitchers (one of which was not Hernandez) on their staff threw at least 100 innings last season – Yovani Gallardo, Ariel Miranda, and James Paxton. Gallardo signed with the Brewers this offseason, and Miranda is reportedly being considered for a role in the bullpen. That means Hernandez and Paxton will be joined in the team’s rotation by a trio of players acquired last summer – Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, and Erasmo Ramirez. Leake had five great starts with the Mariners last season after coming over in a trade from the St. Louis Cardinals, while fellow ex-Cardinal Gonzales struggled in ten appearances.
If you slot Miranda in for Hernandez, the Mariners’ starting five is considerably worse. Even with a healthy Hernandez, the Mariners project as the third-best team in the AL West and eighth-best in the American League (per Fangraphs). Losing Hernandez for any extended period of time likely knocks Seattle further down into the muck of AL teams fighting for the last playoff spot, which is not the place you want to be – especially if your team’s payroll is $157 million.