Even the great ones stumble. So there’s not necessarily cause for panic in Seattle after Felix Hernandez turned in another rough outing Friday night.

But man, that was one rough outing. 

Hernandez endured easily the worst start of his brilliant 11-year career, surrendering eight runs on five hits and recording just one out in a 10-0 blowout loss to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

It was a historic night for the ace right-hander, though not the kind he’d prefer, as ESPN Stats & Info noted: Since 1969, only 11 other pitchers have been tagged for eight earned runs or more without getting at least two outs.

So you brush it off and move on. Some days you don’t have it. That’s baseball, and other platitudes.

Except this isn’t the first time recently that King Felix has looked more like a commoner. 

On June 1, he coughed up seven runs in 4.2 innings against the New York Yankees. Coming into that start, he owned a 1.91 ERA. Now, after Friday’s debacle, it’s ballooned to 3.38.

That’s still a respectable mark. And overall, Hernandez is having a typically stellar season. But two shaky appearances—admittedly sandwiched around a seven-inning, one-run showing June 6—have got to set off at least a few alarm bells for the Mariners

The most obvious, and troubling, explanation is that Hernandez is battling an undisclosed injury. The only other time he lasted just one-third of an inning was in 2007, when he exited with an elbow strain.

Maybe he is dealing with some phantom ailment. But it hasn’t popped up in any unconfirmed whispers, let alone reliable reports. He tweaked his ankle May 17, but manager Lloyd McClendon declared his ace to be “fine,” per Jayson Jenks of the Seattle Times.

The stuff showed up for Hernandez briefly Friday when he rung up touted Houston rookie Carlos Correa with a knee-high 91 mph fastball on the outside corner.

Mostly, though, he made location mistakes, and the ‘Stros, to their credit, made him pay.

Take the two-run shot Jason Castro smacked to extend the lead to 8-0 in the first. Catcher Mike Zunino wanted a fastball down, Hernandez left it up, and the left-handed Castro launched it the other way, over Minute Maid Park’s cozy left field porch.

That’s life in the big leagues, where a few inches can mean the difference between resounding success and stunning failure. 

Speaking of which, Hernandez wasn’t helped by his defense, as MLB.com‘s Greg Johns and Brian McTaggart spelled out:

Before the Astros teed off on Hernandez with the two first-inning homers, the Mariners’ ace got in hot water with some shoddy fielding contributing to the mess. Utility man Willie Bloomquist, making his fifth start of the season at shortstop, was slow on a throw to first as Jose Altuve turned a routine grounder into an infield single leading off the game.

Later, Hernandez himself made a bad throw on a play at the plate, which was definitely on him but not an indictment of his pitching.

It’s entirely possible this start and the one against the Yankees were outliers, anomalous blips in what will otherwise be a predictably dominant season for the five-time All-Star and 2010 American League Cy Young winner.

Hernandez, after all, has lasted at least seven innings eight times this season and threw a complete-game, four-hit shutout on May 27. Don’t bet your college tuition on the King staying down.

“I think it’s a lot of luck,” Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said after he launched a grand slam off Hernandez June 1, the sixth time he’s taken the M’s stud deep, per Newsday‘s Erik Boland. “He’s a great pitcher. I’ve faced him so much. There’s very few guys that for 10-plus years you face on a regular basis. He’s one of them. I’ve just gotten a couple good pitches to hit.”

If Hernandez takes the ball next time and reverses his luck—and offers up fewer pitches to hit—he’ll calm a lot of nerves in the Pacific Northwest, where fans are already plenty anxious about the fourth-place Mariners.

But if he gets whacked around again, this stumble will start to feel more like a fall.


All statistics current as of June 12 and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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