NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Félix Hernández arrived at Spring Training in shape, and he has created some further encouragement while throwing side sessions and live batting practice over the past few weeks. But the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner’s bid to extend his career will depend on the
NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Félix Hernández arrived at Spring Training in shape, and he has created some further encouragement while throwing side sessions and live batting practice over the past few weeks. But the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner’s bid to extend his career will depend on the impression he makes over the next few weeks.
Hernández’s audition will kick in gear on Saturday afternoon, when he takes the mound to face the Orioles in a mutual Grapefruit League season opener at CoolToday Park. The 33-year-old right-hander is competing with Sean Newcomb, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson for what currently stands as two vacancies in the Braves’ rotation.
One of those vacancies should prove to be temporary as the Braves remain hopeful Cole Hamels will be ready to join the rotation at some point during the second half of April. If it continues to look like Hamels will miss just a handful of starts, Atlanta will likely not commit $1 million to Hernández if it appears he’d be the odd man out less than a month into the season.
So this will arguably be the most important Spring Training ever experienced by Hernández, who had been a fixture in Seattle’s rotation dating back to 2005, when he debuted at 19 years old. The six-time All-Star will always be recognized as "The King," but his reign at the Major League level has been threatened by the 5.42 ERA he’s compiled while totaling just 59 starts over the past three seasons.
“It’s been pretty good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Bullpens are one thing. We’ll see. The competition has a way of kind of straightening things. He came to camp in great shape. I don’t know him. I don’t have anything to judge or compare him to, so it will be more performance-based and we’ll see how he does once the games start.”
Hamels is expected to arrive at Spring Training on Saturday, but he is still at least a couple of weeks away from being cleared to begin throwing again. The veteran hurler has been resting and undergoing treatment at his Dallas-area home since tweaking his left shoulder a couple of weeks ago.
Recognizing the value of the one-year, $18 million investment they made in Hamels, the Braves will likely bring him along at a careful rate. This might lead to him missing nearly all of April. But it should be remembered that none of the starters Atlanta used in October’s National League Division Series were on last year’s Opening Day roster. Injuries delayed the season debuts of both Mike Soroka (April 18) and Mike Foltynewicz (April 27). Dallas Keuchel remained a free agent into June.
“It will be good just to get [Hamels] in camp,” Snitker said. “I’m sure he’s excited about getting down here and getting with his teammates. All the reports are good [regarding his shoulder].”
Other spring rotation plans
Snitker said Wilson will start Sunday against the Tigers and Max Fried will start Monday when the Braves travel to play the Blue Jays in Dunedin. He has not yet announced when likely Opening Day starter Soroka and Foltynewicz will make their respective spring debuts. Wright will follow one of the starters during at least the first turn through the rotation.
Wright, who ranks as MLB Pipeline’s No. 52 prospect, has more upside than Wilson and could still end up making the Opening Day roster for a second straight year. But with less than 300 professional innings under his belt, he could benefit from the chance to gain the seasoning needed to increase the likelihood he could stick once he’s next placed in Atlanta’s rotation.
Spring TV schedule
Chip Caray and Jeff Francoeur will be in the booth when Fox Sports South airs Saturday and Sunday’s games. Both games will also be available on MLB.TV. They are scheduled to start at 1:05 p.m. ET.
Here’s a list of other Braves games that will be available via MLB.TV (all times ET):
Wednesday at Orioles (1:05 p.m.)
March 1 at Red Sox (1:05 p.m )
March 4 at Pirates (1:05 p.m.)
March 9 vs. Red Sox (6:05 p.m.)
March 11 at Twins (1:05 p.m.)
March 15 at Twins (1:05 p.m.)
March 16 at Rays (1:05 p.m.)
March 19 at Cardinals (1:05 p.m.)
March 20 at Astros (1:05 p.m.)
March 22 vs. Blue Jays (1:05 p.m.)
March 23 vs. Red Sox (1:05 p.m)
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.