Why a bullpen start tonight and Felix tomorrow?
There seems to be some confusion as to why Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is going with a bullpen day tonight in the series finale with the Twins, with Tom Wilhelmsen making his first Major League start.
But McClendon’s reasoning is simple. He wanted to push ace right-hander Felix Hernandez’s final start before the All-Star break back one day so he could face the division-rival A’s instead of going Thursday on normal rest.
McClendon says there were several thoughts behind that decision, not the least of which was lining his best pitcher up against one of the team’s currently ahead of them in the playoff chase.
“It’s a combination of things,” McClendon said. “It gives him an extra day’s rest, it gives me my best pitchers against our divisional rival and it also sets thing up for the second half.”
The Mariners also will skip 21-year-old right-hander Taijuan Walker’s normal start on Saturday, instead lining up veterans Hisashi Iwakuma and Chris Young to pitch the final two weekend games before the All-Star break. But McClendon said he’s not turning the series against Oakland into an all-or-nothing situation.
“I’m really not. I’m just doing what any other manager would do at the end of the first half,” he said. “You have an opportunity to put your best and most-experienced pitchers out there, you do it. Whether it’s Oakland or Pittsburgh or anybody else. You just put your best out there to finish up the first half. I learned a long time ago, you don’t put importance on one series. What happens if we get swept? The season is over? That’s why you don’t do that. My motto is take one day at a time and I mean that. It sounds cliché, but that’s the way I feel. One day at a time.”
But clearly the Mariners feel better about that day if Hernandez is on the mound. The 28-year-old is having the best first half of his 10-year career and was just named to his fifth All-Star game, where he’s a prime contender to be the starting pitcher for the American League.
Hernandez is 10-2 with a 2.11 ERA and has a shot to break a Mariners record for the lowest ERA prior to the All-Star break of 2.20 set by Randy Johnson in 1997.
Hernandez is 17-7 with a 2.64 ERA in 32 career starts against Oakland, including 2-0 with a 2.49 ERA in three outings this year. The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner downplayed the impact of having his start shifted so he could face the A’s once again.
“It’s good for me, but I just have to go out there and do my job,” Hernandez said. “It’s no different than any other game. I just have to give my team a chance to win. That’s all I’ve got to do.”