Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who is on the disabled list retroactive to May 28 with a strained right calf muscle, could miss another four weeks, reports Marly Rivera of ESPN.com. When the Mariners placed Hernandez on the DL on June 1, their hope was that the 30-year-old would sit out only two starts and return as early as this Sunday. Hernandez still wasn’t moving well or throwing as of earlier this week, though, so he underwent a second MRI and the doctor advised him to rest the calf for a few more weeks and wear a boot “as often as possible” to protect the muscles surrounding the calf, the right-hander told Rivera.
Prior to landing on the DL, Hernandez was his usual formidable self from a results standpoint, recording a 2.85 ERA over 63 innings. However, the six-time All-Star’s strikeout and walk rates (7.57 and 3.71, respectively, per nine innings) are currently at their worst levels since 2008, and his fastball velocity before the injury sat at a career-low 90 mph.
While the onetime Cy Young Award winner isn’t as dominant as he was in his younger days, his absence certainly doesn’t help the cause of the 34-28 Mariners, who trail the AL West-leading Rangers by four games and are percentage points from holding one of the two Wild Card spots. Hernandez has easily been the best Mariners starter this year in terms of run prevention, with Hisashi Iwakuma, Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker and Nate Karns all posting significantly higher ERAs. Of those four, only Walker (3.48) has a sub-4.00 mark.
If there’s one positive to glean from Hernandez’s injury, it’s that his replacement, James Paxton, has been a revelation. The left-hander threw 6 1/3 shutout innings Saturday, giving him a 2.25 ERA, 24 strikeouts and four walks through 16 frames (three starts) since taking over for Hernandez. The former well-regarded prospect has thrown his fastball at an astounding average of 97.3 mph – up from a career mean of 94.5 – and has topped out at 100.2, which is likely attributable to a change in arm slot (via FanGraphs’ Eno Sarris). If the new version of Paxton continues faring well, the struggling Miley is a good bet to be the odd man out of the Mariners’ rotation when Hernandez returns.