PEORIA, Ariz. -- Psst, pay attention here. Because something is about to occur in the quiet Pacific Northwest that could -- could -- positively rock the baseball world this summer, shake the AL West and rattle the Cy Young cages.
|Felix Hernandez drops 20 pounds and will pick up more innings. (Getty Images)|
And long live Felix Hernandez.
Now this is a recent and startling development. For four years, since the Mariners signed him in 2002, they've handled Hernandez, 20, like a first-time Corvette owner babies his new ride. They've watched closely, counted pitches, guarded against dings, tracked innings, avoided scratches and religiously subscribed to the age-times-10 formula.
That's an old-math baseball way to nurture and care for a growing pitcher. Translated, it means an 18-year-old should throw in the range of 180 innings a season (including spring training), a 19-year-old 190, and so forth.
So when Hernandez turned 20 early last season, the Mariners were careful to pull the plug on their rising star when he reached 205 combined spring and regular-season innings (a few miles over the perfect odometer reading of 200). And at 21 this season -- he hits that milestone April 8 -- they were looking somewhere in the 200-210 range.
"That's probably out the door," Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi says. "We'd like to do that. Last year, we were going to do it come hell or high water (in) his first professional season in the big leagues."
"He's chomping at the bit, and he kind of has a right to," Bavasi continues. "He's done everything we've asked him to. He's never pitched winter ball, and that pisses him off. He threw plenty of games last year where he was free and easy, walking off the mound saying, 'Man, I can finish this game.'
"He's trying to become a man, and we're not letting him. It's time to let him."
It is the dilemma facing all of those in charge of this luscious new crop of young stud pitchers: Justin Verlander in Detroit, Jered Weaver in Anaheim, Jonathan Papelbon in Boston and others: At what pace does the club bring him along without increasing the risk of injury?
"He's stupid young," Bavasi says. "It's ridiculous. That is so forgotten because he's as big as a house, he's sure of himself and he's never done anything wrong.