The Blue Jays' early-season woes continued with their 20th loss of the season on Friday night, but this time they had a pretty good excuse. Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez brought his A-game to Rogers Centre in Toronto, striking out seven in eight scoreless innings.
Hernandez, 27, has now allowed exactly five hits and no more than one earned run in each of his last four starts. He's also struck out no fewer than seven batters each time while walking just two hitters total. Three of the four opponents were the Tigers, Angels and Jays, each of whom were considered contenders -- if not the favorites -- for their respective division titles coming into the season.
Through seven starts, Hernandez has pitched to a 1.60 ERA with 9.1 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9 in a league-leading 50 2/3 innings. Opponents are hitting just .212/.238/.342 against him, which is roughly equivalent to Royals utility infielder Elliot Johnson (.208/.240/.333). During his last four starts, Hernandez has held opponents to a .190/.204/.295 batting line in 108 plate appearances. Just silly.
According to Elias, Hernandez is just the second pitcher in AL history to strike out at least 50 batters (he's at 51) through his first seven starts while allowing no more than 40 hits (he's at 39) and seven walks (seven). The other? Johan Santana in 2005, when he struck out 59, walked five and allowed 35 hits in his first seven starts for the Twins. He finished third in the AL Cy Young voting that year despite leading the league in WAR, both the FanGraphs (7.6) and Baseball-Reference (7.2) versions.
The Mariners gave Hernandez that seven-year, $175 million contract before the season because they know what everyone else knows -- he's is one of the five best pitchers in the world and is still only 27. He has one Cy Young Award and two other top-four finishes in the voting, and yet this is the year he's off to the historically great start. That's pretty remarkable.
(Wink of the CBS eye at @jeffrevans for the Elias note)