A year ago, Felix Hernandez worked his first inning of spring against the San Diego Padres and set in motion a problem he’s likely to have to fight most of his career.
Hernandez faced three batters and struck each of them out.
When he faces the Padres again Friday and both teams open their Cactus League schedule, the 21-year-old right-hander will be matched against more than batters. He’ll be facing his own history.
It happened in his rookie season of 2005, when he fashioned a 2.67 earned run average over 84 major league innings.
A year later, he won 12 games – not the four of ’05 – but his ERA was an unsightly 4.52.
Against the Padres Friday, anything less than striking out the side will be considered a step back by some. Hernandez won’t be one of them.
"I want to establish my fastball and keep it low in the zone," Hernandez said. "I want to work on my changeup, and keep it down. It hasn’t been that good lately, but you just keep working on it."
Phenoms are rare enough in baseball, but those who emerge as stars? They’re rarer yet. Among the reasons is they must constantly improve upon themselves, at least in the minds of fans, just to merit the label.
Felix has shown flashes in his first two years that put him in position to be Seattle’s opening day starting pitcher this year and for many to come. How much he improves depends on consistency and maturity.
He has come a long way since last spring, when he showed up out of shape and paid for it over a full season. This year, he’s lean and working hard in camp. And when asked about his first two innings of work Friday, it wasn’t strikeouts he mentioned.
It was keeping the ball down and trying to bring a stubborn changeup under control.