Return of King Felix? Hernandez looks to regain his throne with the Braves

By Robert Dominguez

It was only two innings, and it’s only February. But King Felix took a big first step towards proving he can still be a monarch of the mound every fifth day.

It’s hard to believe that after 15 Major League seasons, 169 wins, 2,500 strikeouts, six All-Star appearances and a Cy Young Award, Felix Hernandez is still only 33 years old — and battling for a rear-echelon rotation spot for a team not named the Seattle Mariners.

But after four injury-plagued seasons that saw the Venezuela native go 26-35, including last year’s dismal 1-8, 6.40 ERA and 1.535 WHIP in 15 starts, Hernandez is trying to resurrect his career as a spring training invitee with the Atlanta Braves.

Taking the mound Feb. 22 in the Braves’ first Grapefruit League game of 2020, Hernandez showed he may have enough left to grab one of Atlanta’s two open rotation spots. In two innings against the Orioles, the once-dominant righty struck out two, walked one and didn’t allow a run in the Braves’ 5-0 win.

“I’m really excited,” Hernandez told reporters after the game. “I’m looking forward to another [start].”

So undoubtedly are the Braves, who surprised everyone last year by taking the NL East crown in arguably the toughest division in baseball, only to see the wild card Washington Nationals win it all.

Manager Brian Snitker, who will need some strong arms at the back end of the rotation to keep up with the stacked staffs of the Nats and Mets this season, lauded Hernandez’s “upbeat aggressiveness” on the mound.

“Physically, I feel 100%,” said Hernandez, who made nearly $28 million in 2019, his last years with he Mariners, and will earn $1 million if he makes the Braves out of spring training. 

“I’m healthy,” the veteran added. “If I keep doing what I did today, I’m going to be in that [rotation] spot.”

Robert Dominguez is co-author of “Bronx Bummers: The Unofficial History of the New York Yankees’ Bad Boys, Blunders and Brawls.”

Photo source: James G — Under Creative Commons License