Felix can make All-Star selection easier with strong start tonight against Red Sox

Pretty good night for baseball in the Puget Sound tonight, with lots of buzz about the Triple-A pitching matchup in Tacoma with Danny Hultzen making his Cheney Stadium debut and first home start since being promoted, with Jamie Moyer expected to be on the hill for Las Vegas in a classic “past vs. future” matchup.

And there’s also a pretty fair scene at Safeco Field with Felix Hernandez taking on the Red Sox in his final showing before All-Star teams are announced Sunday.

There’s been much debate about who the Mariners All-Star representative will be, but it seems to me the logical choice will be Hernandez, particularly if he wins tonight. That would put his record at 6-5, which looks a lot better than 5-6 when it comes to these things.

But more importantly with Hernandez, he’s returned to his dominant self the past two outings — allowing two runs over 14 innings to the Giants and Padres — and could add to that with another strong showing against the Red Sox.

Let’s fact it. There isn’t a strong competitor among the Mariners position players. Kyle Seager deserves to be part of the conversation and his 46 RBIs are strong. But he’s hitting just .256 now and there are a lot of good third base canddiates in the American League.

Ichiro has the name recognition and if he’d announced this was his final season, I could see him getting selected in deference to his outstanding career. But at .276 with a .304 on-base percentage, 10 stolen bases, 24 RBIs, none of that screams “All-Star.”

If it comes down to the players and managers vote in determing which Mariners player to add, it’s seems pretty certain that Felix carries considerable respect among his peers and will be the leading vote-getter in that group.

And despite a rough stretch during which he went 1-4 with a 6.37 ERA in six starts, he’s 5-5 with a 3.36 ERA overall with 101 strikeouts in 101 2/3 innings, with tonight’s start to add on before selections are announced Sunday morning.

He’s currently fifth in the AL in strikeouts, sixth in innings, 11th in ERA among qualified starters.

If he adds on another solid start tonight, it certainly won’t hurt. And with each team needing to have one All-Star, he seems the logical selection. The other pitcher with deserving numbers is Charlie Furbush, who has been crazy good in his role this season and is 4-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 32 1/3 innings. But it’s rare for a non-closer to get selected as a reliever, particularly a guy who just now is working into more of a late-inning setup role.

A year ago, Felix was selected to the team, but then replaced from the 33-man active All-Star squad because he pitched on the final Sunday before the All-Star game. This year, if the Mariners stay in their five-man rotation through the All-Star break, he wouldn’t start that Sunday.

He could start that Sunday game if the Mariners choose to keep him on an every-fifth day plan, however, and skip somebody else when they have an off day on July 5. But that seems unlikely, particularly if they know that doing so would keep Hernandez out of the All-Star game.

So we’ll see what happens tonight, but this seems like a big night for Felix as he tries to lock down the third All-Star selection of his career.

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