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Why did Félix Hernández choose to pitch for the rebuilding Orioles? A chance at the Hall of Fame.

Jon Meoli, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Baseball

BALTIMORE — Félix Hernández believes his storied career with the Seattle Mariners has him on the cusp of Baseball’s Hall of Fame. And the opportunity to win a rotation spot with the Orioles and be a fixture in their rotation for the entire 2021 season was reason enough to come to this rebuilding club to pursue that.

“I think the opportunity that I’ve got here, it’s a lot of young guys,” Hernández said. “To come over here, I didn’t play last year at all, so to come over here and have the opportunity, they gave me a chance to come over here and compete and get a spot in the rotation. That’s why I made the decision.”

The Orioles signed Hernández to a minor league deal that could be worth $1 million if he makes the major league team, which hardly compares to the over $200 million he made as one of the generation’s best pitchers with the Seattle Mariners.

Now, he’s chasing a legacy and is happy to do it in Baltimore.

Hernández, who will turn 35 when the Orioles have their home opener on April 8 against the Boston Red Sox, spent a magnificent 15-year career with the Seattle Mariners. He debuted at age 19 in 2005, and made at least 30 starts there in each of the next 10 seasons.

He finished second in American League Cy Young voting in 2009 and won it a year later, then earned All-Star honors in the next six seasons. Before he turned 30, Hernández had a 3.11 ERA with a 1.171 WHIP

In his age-30 season, however, Hernández began a decline from those high standards. He averaged 21 starts each year and had a 4.89 ERA with a 1.376 WHIP.

Hernández was in camp with the Atlanta Braves in 2020 and pitched well in spring training before opting out of the regular season due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. But he said the glimpse of what he was able to do in the spring was proof that things could be different from those last few years in Seattle.

 

“I was going through a lot of injuries, and I wasn’t having fun,” he said. “Last year, I opted out because of all the things going on in the world. But right now, I really, really feel good. I’m ready to go.”

Hernández put his good feelings from the spring of 2020 down to how he prepared himself for the spring, and the lack of stress on his body during the summer has only elevated that.

“I need to see hitters but I feel very confident with where I am now,” Hernández said. “The success I had in spring training last year because of how I prepared myself in the offseason. Now, I’m really, really prepared too. I can’t wait for the games to start.”

If Hernández is on the Orioles, he’ll be looking to bolster a resume he feels is on the fringe of consideration for the Hall of Fame. He has 169 wins and 2,524 strikeouts in his career, and believes if he gets to 200 wins and 3,000 strikeouts, his case will be a much better one.

“Let me tell you something, I have the numbers,” Hernández said. “I’ve got the innings, I’ve got strikeouts. But my goal is to get to 3,000 and 200 wins.”

He will do that as the kind of crafty pitcher those at the end of their careers need to be to be successful. He says his change-up is still effective despite a loss of velocity overall, and feels good about both of his breaking balls and sinkers after his first bullpen of the spring Wednesday.

“My velocity declined four years ago, five years ago,” Hernández said. “The last two years, I wasn’t healthy at all. Right now, I’m not the hard thrower that I was before. I’m kind of like a smart pitcher, trying to go to the corners and mix with all my breaking balls. It don’t make any difference, but you’ve got to be a little bit smarter.”

(c)2021 The Baltimore Sun Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.