Across the AL: Yanks return to the Bronx to host King Felix and the Mariners

Felix+Hernandez

Although the Yankees lost the first game of the Monday doubleheader against the Indians, they were able to shut out the Tribe in the second game, 7-0.  Between the two games, Yankees pitchers managed to limit the Indians to a total of one run – an impressive feat against a lineup that, coming into Monday, was averaging over five runs per game in the month of May.

With the 7-0 win, the Yanks concluded an eight-game road trip, during which the team played very well and went 6-2.  The Bombers will look to continue their winning ways as they return to the Bronx Tuesday night to host the Seattle Mariners for the first of three games.

The Yankees will have their hands full, though, as they are slated to face the top of Seattle’s rotation.  In a true battle of aces, CC Sabathia will match up against none other than Felix Hernandez, one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball and the Mariners’ most prized possession.

Over the winter, general manager Jack Zduriencik and the rest of the Mariners’ front office agreed to a contract extension with Hernandez, which will keep him in Seattle through 2019.  The seven-year, $175 million extension makes Hernandez the highest paid pitcher in MLB, outdoing the seven-year, $161 million deal that the Yankees originally agreed to with Sabathia.

Through eight starts, Hernandez is 5-2 with 56 strikeouts and an AL-best 1.53 ERA.  The 27-year-old has been dominant, throwing quality starts in all but one of his outings this year.  Leading the majors in innings pitched (58.2), few are able to overthrow King Felix once he settles in atop his dirt-covered throne.  Coming into Tuesday, the right-hander is looking for his fifth straight win and his fourth straight start of at least eight innings.

At Yankee Stadium, Hernandez is far away from King’s Court and his loyal subjects that cheer therein, but he seems to feel right at home within the Bronx palace.  In five career starts at the new Stadium, King Felix is 4-1 with 40 punchouts and a 1.13 ERA.

Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells, both of whom have been red-hot for the Yanks lately, can certainly attest to what a royal pain Hernandez can be, as the two are a combined 8-43 (.186) against him in their careers.  Some good news for Yankees fans is that Robinson Cano has seemingly discovered a chink in the King’s armor.  In 41 lifetime at-bats against the righty, Cano is hitting .366 with two homers, five RBI, and an impressive .422 OBP.  Mark Teixeira, unfortunately still nursing a partially torn sheath in his right wrist, has had even more success.  In 61 career at-bats against Hernandez, Tex is hitting .311 with five homers and nine RBI.

While it is easier said than done, the best shot the Yanks have is to get Felix out of the game somewhat early.  Notice how I did not state that the Yanks should “knock” him out of the game.  This is a Cy Young Award winner who has a career 3.16 ERA and boasts a career .70 HR/9; it is not often that he gets “knocked” out of games.

However, the Yankees can still work the count in order to get him off the mound.  If they take some pitches and foul enough balls off, the King’s pitch count will go up very quickly and his reign will be unceremoniously cut short.  Considering the fact that there has only been one start this year in which Felix did not come onto the field for the seventh inning, the Yanks have their work cut out for them

The Yankees need to get Felix out of the game as early as possible so that they can face Seattle’s middle relievers, who (for the most part) sport some high ERAs and other batter-friendly numbers.  If the Yankees allow Hernandez to last deep into the game, they will encounter another tough pitcher, closer Tom Wilhelmsen.

Wilhelmsen saved 29 games for the M’s last year, finishing with a 2.50 ERA.  Thus far in 2013, the 29-year-old closer is a perfect 10-10 in save opportunities and has a 0.56 ERA.  Three of his ten saves came in games which were started by Hernandez – Felix pitched into the eighth inning in all three of those games.  With Wilhelmsen serving as heir to the throne, Seattle’s starter-closer combo is one that can easily stifle a Yankees offense that has been playing very well as of late – again confirming that the Yanks need to do everything they can in order to face the middle relievers in the Mariners bullpen.

Photo credit: (April 26, 2013 – Source: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images North America).

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