For all he has accomplished, including a 2010 American League Cy Young award, a 2012 perfect game, and four All-Star appearances, Felix Hernandez has never reached June with seven victories, a mark achievable Wednesday night when Hernandez (6-1, 2.75) and the Mariners host C.J. Wilson and the Angels in the third of a four-game series at Safeco Field.
That Hernandez has not been able to post seven victories before June 1 could be viewed as reflection of the tepid teams for which he’s pitched. Since his first full season in 2006, the Mariners have produced only three winning months in April and May (13-9, April 2009; 16-14, May 2007; 15-11, May, 2011) with the possibility of a fourth this season (14-11).
But it’s not all about pitching for mediocre clubs. Randy Johnson reached seven wins before June 1 only once (7-1, 1997) in the 10 years he threw for the Mariners and just four times in his 22 major league seasons, which included 303 wins. Jamie Moyer won 145 games for the Mariners, including 20+ twice, but had seven wins before June 1 only once (8-2, 2003).
Or consider Greg Maddux, who won 355 games in 23 years. Maddux pitched for 13 division winners in Atlanta, but won seven games before June 1 just five times.
With 116 career victories spread across 1,900 innings, Hernandez’s career will never be judged on the number of wins, but rather on the quality of the innings he’s pitched. His most recent outing, last Friday, serves as a good example.
Hernandez worked eight innings, allowed five hits, one earned run and struck out nine of the 29 batters he faced in Seattle’s 6-1 victory over the Houston Astros. It marked the 61st time in his career that Hernandez went at least eight innings and allowed one or fewer earned runs – the practical definition of giving a team a chance to win. No pitcher has been able to exceed Hernandez’s total of 61 such games since he made his debut Aug. 4, 2005:
In the 61, Hernandez has a record of 48-1, by far the best on the list, with 16 complete games and 485 strikeouts, also the most on the list.
Hernandez has six wins in his first 11 2014 starts, the most he’s ever had through the first 11 in any season (five wins three times) since he made his major league debut. His most recent win, against the Astros, also included nine strikeouts, marking the fourth time this season that he’s had nine or more.
Coupled with his eight innings pitched, Hernandez has thrown 25 games since 2010 in which he has logged at least eight innings and struck out nine or more. Hernandez is 17-3 in those games with an 0.86 ERA and 0.67 WHIP.
Only Cliff Lee, who pitched for the Mariners briefly in 2010, is close to Hernandez with 21 such games. Justin Verlander is 10 behind with 15 and only six other pitchers have double-figure games with at least eight innings pitched and nine or more strikeouts. Hernandez also leads this category since he arrived in the majors with 34 such contests.
What makes Hernandez’s total of 34 more impressive is that he has pitched for teams with inept offenses. Since Hernandez came into the league, the Mariners have finished 10th or worse in OPS seven times and this year rank 13th among 15 American League teams – even with Robinson Cano.