Pitcher Félix Hernández has a resume that he’d like to make even stronger with the Orioles. In his initial video conference call with Baltimore media on Thursday, Hernández was honest about what drives him.
“The Hall of Fame,” he said. “I think I have a shot to go in the Hall of Fame, and I have a few numbers that I have to keep up, like wins and strikeouts.”
At 34, Hernández is 169-136 with a 3.42 ERA and 2,524 strikeouts. He’s hoping for 31 additional wins and 476 strikeouts for 200 wins and 3,000 strikeouts.
“If I get to those goals, I think I’m going to be accepted in the Hall of Fame.”
Of the 10 pitchers BaseballReference.com calculates as most similar to Hernández, none is in the Hall. of Fame Cole Hamels, the most similar, is still active.
Hernández, who signed a minor league contract with the Orioles on February 3rd, will be in the starting rotation if he’s healthy and effective.
“The opportunity that I got here. There’s a lot of young guys,” Hernández said. “They gave me a chance to come over here and compete. That’s when I made the decision.”
After a stellar career with the Seattle Mariners in which he went 169-136 with a 3.42 ERA and won the Cy Young Award in 2010, Hernández signed with the Atlanta Braves last year. He started the team’s first Grapefruit League game against the Orioles in North Port, Florida, and then opted out for the regular season because of Covid-19.
“I actually prepared myself during the offseason,” Hernández said. “I feel really good. My body feels good. My arm feels really, really good, so I’ve just gotten here to prepare and go out there and compete and go out there and do what I need to do to get a spot in the rotation.”
Hernández pitched well for the Braves last spring.
“The success that I had in spring training was because I prepared myself,” he said. “Now, I’m really, really prepared, too. I can’t wait for the games to start.”
The Orioles hope Hernández can mentor young pitchers such as Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells and Bruce Zimmermann.
“I’ve been talking to the guys all the time,” Hernández said. “Doing the drills that we do on the field, I answer a lot of questions, and I’m helping, too. Just to be a mentor and just to give my perspective of the game, my experience. I’m having fun over here.”
Hernández has already made an impression on Orioles pitching coach Chris Holt.
“He knows who he is, and he knows what he has to do to get ready,” Holt said. “Physically, he looks like he’s in tremendous shape. His first bullpen was [Wednesday]. Delivery looks like he’s on time and pitches coming out of [his] hand look very true, and he’s been doing work at home, so encouraging to see him come in and be ready to roll right from the outset.”
Hernández was a six-time All-Star with the Mariners but in 2018 and 2019 he slipped, going 8-14 with a 5.55 ERA and 1-8 with a 6.40 ERA.
“I wasn’t healthy,” Hernández said. “I was going through a lot of injuries, and I wasn’t having fun. Last year, I opted out because of all the things going on in the world. Right now, I really, really feel good, and I’m ready to go.”
When manager Brandon Hyde was coaching for the Marlins in 2011, he remembers his team being overmatched by Hernández in Seattle. Hernández allowed one run on two hits in eight innings, striking out 10 and walking two.
“It was a different level when he was on the mound,” Hyde said. “It was one of the more dominating performances I’ve seen.”
Hyde thinks that Hernández can help the younger pitchers.
“When you’ve had that much success, you’ve had that many innings on the mound in the big leagues,” Hyde said. “We don’t have a ton of guys who have a ton of service time and someone like him that’s thrown a [perfect game] in the big leagues, pitched in the environments that he’s pitched in, been a real dominant starter, especially in the first half of his career, there’s always things to learn from.”
If Hernández makes the Orioles, fans will see a different pitcher than they saw in his prime.
“My velocity declined four years ago, five years ago,” he said. The last two years I wasn’t healthy at all. Right now, I’m not the hard thrower I was before. I’m kind of like a smart pitcher. I try to go to the corners and mix in all my breaking balls. It doesn’t make any difference, but you’ve got to be a little smarter.”
Minor league schedules: Schedules for the Orioles’ full-season minor league teams — Triple-A Norfolk, Double-A Bowie, High-A Aberdeen and Low-A Delmarva — were announced Thursday.
Norfolk begins its season with a six-game series at Nashville on April 6.th The Tides’ first home game is April 13th against Jacksonville.
Bowie, Aberdeen and Delmarva start their seasons on May 4th. The Baysox open at home against Altoona. In their initial season in High-A, the IronBirds will start with a 12-game road trip to Wilmington and Hudson Valley. Aberdeen’s first home game will be on May 18th against Wilmington. Delmarva will start the season at home against Salem.
All minor league teams end the season on September 19th.