On amazing run, no one better than King Felix
MINNEAPOLIS -- At least Liam Hendriks will have a story to tell. When you go up against Felix Hernandez, that's about the best you can hope for these days.
Hendriks, the Twins' young right-hander, pitched the game of his life on Monday night, and but for one fastball that really didn't miss by much, he went toe-to-toe with King Felix. When you even have one "but for" against Hernandez, though, it's not going to be good enough.
At this point, in this season, there is no one better than Hernandez. He's going on a half-season of pitching at a level that even some Hall of Famers never reached for more than a couple of weeks at a time.
"He can invent things," marveled Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "He can do things that a lot of other pitchers can't."
Maybe most impressive about Hernandez is the number of ways he can dominate. He can do it in spectacular, slashing fashion, as in his perfect game 12 days earlier. Or he can do it in subtler, head-scratching style. Monday's 1-0 win was more the latter. It's hard to lull hitters to sleep when you throw in the mid-90s, but that's sort of what Hernandez did.
He struck out five, which is nothing to sneeze at, but he was all about the ground balls on Monday. He got 16 groundouts as opposed to three flyouts, and when you have an infield behind you like the Mariners', that's a fine way to work.
"It's a different kind of great," said shortstop Brendan Ryan, who's played behind his share of aces. "He's not trying to throw 96 [mph] by you. [He's] letting the action and location dictate."
Mind you, he can throw it by you at 96 mph. And sometimes he will. But for every showy 12-strikeout performance, there's a game like Monday, when he located up and down, in and out, threw three pitches for strikes and concocted that magical mix of location and stuff that every pitcher dreams about. He needed a mere 100 pitches, the third-lowest total in a nine-inning complete game in his career.
"I've been consistent the last two months," he said. "Just trying to throw strikes, get ahead of every hitter and mix all my pitches."
Oh, is that all? It's a short list of pitchers who can do the number of things Hernandez can. Stephen Strasburg is on the list, and probably Justin Verlander. But that may be the entirety of the cohort who have three different offerings with the quality of Hernandez's arsenal.
His fastball has -- his fastballs have -- velocity, movement and location. His curveball, a specialty on Monday, can be a strike or a chase pitch. His changeup is just unfair.
"He's throwing [the fastball] at like 94 [mph]," said catcher John Jaso, "so it's cutting later. So hitters are getting sawed off, or going after pitches that end up being balls. And then his two-seamer, too, that late movement is really benefiting him."
Over his past 14 starts, since mid-June, Hernandez is 9-0 with a 1.40 ERA and five shutouts. No other pitcher is under 2.00 in that span. He's allowed two homers in 109 innings. No other pitcher with even 60 innings in that time has allowed as few.
And the shutouts aren't just the most since June. It equals the highest total by any right-handed pitcher in the Major Leagues in any season in more than two decades. The last righty to throw more in a season was Tim Belcher in 1989. Only Randy Johnson and Cliff Lee, with six each, have thrown more shutouts as a lefty over those years.
Hernandez has done it in just over two months. There's locked in, and then there's what King Felix is doing these days.
"They just know right off the bat that it's going to be a battle up there," Jaso said. "When he starts throwing his nasty stuff up there, they don't really say anything like, 'That's new.' It's the same stuff."
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.