A complete game, two-hit shutout against the weak-hitting San Diego Padres had to get him thinking. And it just as easily had the rest of us questioning his future, as well.
What would it be like if Felix Hernandez pitched in the National League? Last night may very well have been a preview of that distinct possibility.
In nine innings of work against the Pads, Felix allowed two singles — one to Tony Gwynn, Jr., another to Kevin Kouzmanoff — struck out six, walked four, and threw an ace-like 117 pitches. He dominated from start to finish and not only displayed his full range of ability, but also the stark contrast in talent between the hitter-friendly American League and the pitcher-friendly National League.
It’s no secret that the NL has been kind to pitchers over the years. With pitchers forced to bat and no designated hitter in place, opposing defenses are asked to get eight hitters and one pushover (in most cases) out each time through the lineup. Not so in the AL, where nine capable bats trot to the plate in succession of one another.
For a pitcher, the NL has been a veritable fountain of youth. Jamie Moyer, for example, has extended his career longer than the Mariners thought possible when they traded him to Philadelphia in 2006. Likewise, Randy Johnson went from being a great, aging pitcher in the AL to being an elite, dominant force well into his forties in the NL.
Guys like Chris Carpenter, Mike Hampton, and CC Sabathia went from being good pitchers in the American League, to putting up Cy Young-caliber numbers in the National League (Carpenter won the award in 2005).
Perhaps even more telling than the aforementioned names is a guy like Jose Lima. A below-average (some might even say bad) pitcher in the AL, Lima was an All-Star in the NL pitching for the Houston Astros from 1997 through 2000.
Prior to his career-making stint in Houston, Lima had struggled in parts of three seasons with Detroit, before finding himself a Tiger once again in 2001. From ’01 to ’03, Lima was mediocre while spending time with Detroit and Kansas City. In 2004, he returned to the NL with the Los Angeles Dodgers and gave a rejuvenated performance, going 13-5 with a 4.07 ERA. In ’05, Lima came back to the AL with the Royals and faltered once again, and by 2006 he was out of the big leagues at just 33 years of age.
Not that Felix Hernandez necessarily has anything in common with these other pitchers, or that he would even continue this trend (if we can call it that) of finding greater success in the NL if he made the switch. But it’s worth mentioning, at least, that Felix Hernandez as a National League pitcher is a very real possibility in the semi-near future.
Hernandez is under Seattle’s control until after the 2011 season, and he has yet to entertain any talk of a contract extension. In all likelihood, it appears that he may be headed towards free agency when the ’11-’12 offseason commences, and if that’s the case the Mariners will be in murky waters trying to compete with the other ballclubs in Major League Baseball.
As Mariner fans can attest, one can only hope that Hernandez and Seattle can agree on a contract extension before 2011. But if that doesn’t happen, we may one day see King Felix regularly tossing complete-game, two-hit shutouts.
As a National League pitcher.