With the fifth rotation spot already up for grabs this Spring Training, compounded with the injury to Cole Hamels, who has no timetable to return, it is open tryouts right now for the Braves’ rotation. According to Mark Bowman of MLB.com, Felix Hernandez is in the lead for a spot.
If King Felix were to even throw one pitch for the Braves, it would be his first time doing so in a uniform other than the Mariners’. Hernandez was a longtime ace for Seattle, a six-time All-Star, and a former Cy Young Award winner. However, injuries have limited him the past few seasons, and he has not been nearly as effective. Hernandez may benefit from a change of scenery and a switch to the more pitcher-friendly National League, but he is going to have to retool his approach. Felix is no longer a guy who can pump high-90’s heat. He will have to learn how to mix the arsenal he has to offer — perhaps leaning more on a two-seam fastball, for instance — but it seems the greats always figure something out. After all, he is somewhat surprisingly just 33 years old.
Prior to Hernandez’s scheduled Tuesday afternoon start — when this report came out — he had given up one run while striking out six men in 4.2 innings over two outings. And what he did today certainly did not hurt his case. King Felix went four innings against the Rays, allowing four hits and only one run in a 5-2 loss. Sure, it is a small sample size, but the key here is that Hernandez looks healthy and sharp.
As for his competition, Sean Newcomb poses the biggest threat, but he will likely have his own spot in the rotation. Kyle Wright has looked very impressive in Spring, even more so than Hernandez. However, the Braves are tired of calling Wright up and down. It makes more sense for them to place Hernandez in the rotation, and allow Wright to show that his new look in 2020 is no fluke, along with providing some additional development time. He could have a substantial role in 2020, but the Braves should keep their options open early on.
At this point, I am not sure that guys such as Bryse Wilson and Touki Toussaint are much of a threat, but things change, and there is a lot of baseball yet to be played. Felix is a legend, but the possible outcomes from this experiment range from Hernandez just eating a month’s worth of innings until Hamels’ return, to perhaps catching lightning in a bottle like the organization did with Anibal Sanchez. Either way, it seems “The King” will get an opportunity to show Atlanta what he is capable of, barring any setbacks.