Felix Hernandez fighting to keep rotation spot as Mariners battle to make postseason

Thursday night, thanks to journeyman Mike Hauschild, the Blue Jays rallied late for a win over the Mariners at Safeco Field (TOR 7, SEA 3). It was the third straight loss for the Mariners and their 15th loss in the last 23 games.

With Thursday's loss the Mariners have slipped out of a postseason spot for the first time since April 27. Here are the current AL wild card standings:

  1. Yankees: 68-39
  2. Athletics: 64-46 (5 1/2 GB)
  3. Mariners: 63-46 (6 GB)
  4. Rays: 56-53 (13 GB)

If the season ended today -- which of course it doesn't, thankfully -- the A's would travel to Yankee Stadium for the AL Wild Card Game and the Mariners would see their postseason drought extend to 17 seasons. They haven't been to the postseason since 2001, Ichiro's rookie year.

Thursday's loss did drop the Mariners out of a postseason spot, but they still have 53 games to play, so it's not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. Plenty of time to recover.

Even in defeat, Thursday's loss did bring one positive for the Mariners: Felix Hernandez pitched well. Did he pitch great? No, not at all. But he was effective.

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Felix Hernandez SEA • SP • 34
August 2 vs. Blue Jays
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After Thursday's game, Hernandez now has a 5.49 ERA in 118 innings this season. Opponents have hit .268/.340/.451 against him, which is basically what Justin Upton is doing this season (.263/.354/.455). There are 77 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title right now. Here's where Felix ranks:

  • ERA: 5.49 (74th)
  • ERA+: 74 (74th)
  • WHIP: 1.41 (67th)  
  • FIP: 4.72 (63rd)
  • WAR: minus-0.8 (75th)

Hernandez will go down as one of the best pitchers of his generation. Right now though, he is a bottom-tier starter, the kind of guy who would get sent back to the minors if he were a young kid instead of a 32-year-old with a Cy Young track record.

The Mariners are slipping in the standings and Hernandez's overall performance has contributed to that -- last week, he allowed seven runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Angels -- which is why manager Scott Servais was non-committal about keeping Felix in the rotation following Thursday's game. From Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times:

"We'll see," Servais said. "We have to keep evaluating where we are at as a team and how he's feeling and go from there." 

...

"Felix kept us in the game," Servais said. "It wasn't easy for him. He did give us a chance. Coming into the game tonight, I think that's what we were hoping for. He commanded the ball a little better than last time out. He did compete. I didn't think his stuff was particularly sharp, but he made pitches and did get through it." 

Hernandez insists he is fully healthy, and he knew his rotation spot is on the line -- "I can't think about that," he said before Thursday's start -- going into Thursday's game. It would seem he did enough to keep his rotation spot, though he's had flashes of effectiveness all season, and he's been unable to sustain it.

If the Mariners do make a change, Roenis Elias or Erasmo Ramirez could step in to the rotation to replace Hernandez. Ramirez is currently on a minor-league rehab assignment for a shoulder injury and is expected back soon. The Mariners could also make an August waiver trade to bolster their starting staff. Matt Harvey is out there, for example.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Seattle Mariners
Felix Hernandez seems to be on a start-to-start basis with the Mariners. USATSI

For now, Hernandez remains in the rotation, even though he's been one of the least effective starters in baseball and the Mariners are slipping in the standings. The club needs quality innings at this point. If Felix can provide them, great. That would be the best-case scenario. 

That said, we have over 100 innings of evidence -- really more than that if you go back to last year -- showing us Hernandez is no longer a viable big-league starter. Perhaps he can reinvent himself and have a strong second phase of his career, but, right now, he's part of the problem for the Mariners, not part of the solution.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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