Felix Hernandez did something Saturday he's never done in his MLB career: he wore something other than a Mariners uniform. King Felix signed a minor league deal with the Atlanta Braves over the winter and is trying to make their rotation this spring.
In his team's spring opener Saturday (ATL 5, BAL 0), Hernandez struck out two in two scoreless innings, and threw 30 pitches. Pretty standard workload for a veteran pitcher making his spring debut. He's building stamina and gaining feel for his arsenal, not focusing on results.
"Good results," Hernandez told reports, including MLB.com's Mark Bowman, following Saturday's game. "I was throwing a lot of strikes. That's the main thing. I feel really good."
Last season Hernandez, 34 in April, pitched to a 6.40 ERA in 15 starts and 71 2/3 innings around a shoulder injury with Seattle. Age and injuries have slowed Felix in recent years -- he has a 5.42 ERA since 2017 -- but he's healthy now and he feels good this spring.
"Physically, I feel 100 percent," Hernandez said. "I'm healthy. If I keep doing what I did today, I'm going to be in that spot."
Helping veteran pitchers revive their careers is a Braves specialty. They got fine work from Josh Tomlin last year, and, more notably, they coaxed 136 2/3 innings of 2.83 ERA ball from Anibal Sanchez in 2018. That was after Sanchez posted a 5.67 ERA with the Tigers from 2015-17. Atlanta will try to work that same magic with Hernandez this year.
. Because of that, the Braves have two open rotation spots this spring. Their rotation depth chart currently looks something like this:
- RHP Mike Soroka
- RHP Mike Foltynewicz
- LHP Max Fried
- LHP Sean Newcomb
- RHP Felix Hernandez
- RHP Kyle Wright
- RHP Touki Toussaint
- RHP Bryse Wilson
Atlanta is not short on arms -- many teams would love to have Wright, Toussaint, and Wilson in their 6-8 rotation slots -- but they are short on track record. Soroka has one full MLB season under his belt, Newcomb spent last year in the bullpen, and the three kids in the 6-8 spots have combined for 123 1/3 big league innings, more than half by Toussaint.
The Braves are hoping Hamels can be a veteran stabilizer when he returns from his shoulder injury. Could Hernandez fill the void in the interim? That's what he'll look to show he can do this spring. Saturday was a good Step 1 but that's all it was. Step 1. The former Cy Young winner is fighting for a rotation spot really for the first time in his career right now.