A right shoulder issue has prevented former Mariners superstar Felix Hernandez from taking the ball in the majors since May 11. As a result, the 33-year-old pending free agent isn’t a sure bet to suit up for the Mariners again, though he’s still holding out hope for a 2019 return, Greg Johns of MLB.com relays. Hernandez threw a 22-pitch live batting practice session Thursday and could begin a rehab assignment Sunday, but manager Scott Servais isn’t sure if he has progressed to that point, according to Johns.
If Hernandez does make it back to Seattle this year, the 2010 AL Cy Young winner and six-time All-Star realizes he’ll be auditioning just to land a 2020 opportunity somewhere.
“I need it,” Hernandez told Johns. “If I want to play next year, I need to go out there and pitch. I have to go out and compete. I’ve been thinking about next year, for sure. That’s why I need to go out there and show them I can pitch.”
A lack of availability was never a problem earlier in the career of Hernandez, who fired 190-plus innings each year from 2006 – his first full season – through 2015. Hernandez exceeded the 200-frame mark eight times during that span (every season from 2008-15) and combined for a sterling 3.13 ERA/3.21 FIP with 8.53 K/9, 2.51 BB/9 and 50.4 fWAR over 2,178 innings. Hernandez looked like a potential Hall of Famer then, which convinced the Mariners to sign him to a seven-year, $175MM extension shortly before the 2013 season began. Unfortunately for Seattle, it hasn’t gotten great overall value out of its massive commitment to the franchise icon, who has faced injuries and a significant drop in performance over the past few seasons.
Hernandez declined into something akin to a back-end starter from 2016-17, a span in which he totaled 239 2/3 innings, and has statistically been one of the least effective rotation pieces in baseball since last season. Dating back to then, Hernandez has tossed 194 1/3 innings of 5.74 ERA/5.23 FIP ball. Although he has mustered playable strikeout, walk and groundball rates (7.36 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 47.5 GB%), Hernandez ranks last in ERA and FIP among 102 starters who have accumulated 180 or more innings over the past year-plus.
Considering his recent, injury-aided fall from grace, Hernandez certainly isn’t on the brink of a lucrative trip to free agency (a guaranteed contract isn’t even a sure thing). However, it’s fair to say most baseball fans – especially those in Seattle – would like to see King Felix return this season and potentially end his tremendous Mariners tenure on a high note.