A plus-plus heater, a plus-plus curve ball, a potentially plus change-up; that's a nasty combination capable of limiting any lineup on any given night. It's no-hit stuff.
When a 97-mph fastball is followed by an un-hittable curveball and a baffling change-up, one might wonder what could possibly make an arsenal like that better?
How about a plus slider to compliment three of the best pitches the organization has to offer?
Felix Hernandez has been nothing short of remarkable in his four big-league starts this season. He's fooled hitter after hitter, gone deep into games with more than reasonable pitch counts and still has not allowed an extra-base hit in 29 innings of work.
Sounds like a possible Cy Young candidate in the offing, right?
Well Mariner fans, take a seat and read on, because, believe it or not, it gets better.
Hernandez has another pitch in his repertoire. A biting slider that can pile up the strikeouts and force even more meekly struck ground balls to the M's solid defensive infield.
"He spins a good one," said Pat Rice, the M's minor league pitching coordinator. "You could see him start using it some at the end of this season and then go into next year with it ready to go."
Ok, so you have heard this before, this supposedly hall-of-fame slider that is spoken about like a secret weapon. It does exist, however. InsidethePark.com witnessed a handful of them this past spring but until Saturday night in Minnesota, Felix had yet to show the world.
Hernandez threw four sliders, three of them induced swings and misses, and the other induced a slow tapper to Bloomquist at second base. While four of 115 isn't exactly an unveiling, two things are clear. He does feel comfortable throwing it and the club doesn't want him using it too often.
But why not? The answer is two-fold, half of which may surprise most.
Obviously, the slider is a pitch that puts a lot of unnatural torque and stress on a young arm and too many sliders could prove harmful to the franchise's most valued commodity.
But Rice offers a different reason, one that completes the justification of the M's asking Hernandez to hold off on the slider – for now.
"He just didn't need it," said Rice. "He didn't need it in the minors and he hasn't needed it up there yet either."
He didn't need it, so why take the chance that he might injure his precious elbow. Sounds like a good reason, a good explanation and a great decision by the club. A decision made easier by the rest of King Felix's bag of tricks.
So what kind of pitch is this slider?
"It's a pretty good pitch for him," said Rice. "It planes a lot like his fastball, which is what makes it so good. But his curve does that, too, so he hasn't had the need to throw it yet."
So if Felix can get consistent outs in the big leagues… ok, let me rephrase that – if Hernandez is able to get everybody out in the big leagues with his fastball, curveball, change-up combination, then what will become of the American League when he unleashes the Royal Slider?
For once in the Emerald City, it's not the Mariners problem.
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