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King Felix to end reign in Seattle tonight

Winningest pitcher in Mariners history heads to free agency
@gregjohnsmlb
September 26, 2019

SEATTLE -- No one should feel sorry for Félix Hernández as his outstanding run with the Mariners comes to an end Thursday. Most people dream of being King for a day. Hernandez got 15 years. But without doubt, there will be some misty eyes among the Mariners faithful when Hernandez

SEATTLE -- No one should feel sorry for Félix Hernández as his outstanding run with the Mariners comes to an end Thursday. Most people dream of being King for a day. Hernandez got 15 years.

But without doubt, there will be some misty eyes among the Mariners faithful when Hernandez comes off the mound one last time at T-Mobile Park following his final showdown with the longtime American League West rival A’s in the 7:10 p.m. PT game, live on MLB.TV.

For a decade and a half, Hernandez has combined his royalty with loyalty to a Mariners’ franchise and fanbase that celebrated his starts with the unique King’s Court.

He’s been paid handsomely for his efforts, earning $217 million to date, yet baseball careers and long-term contracts rarely end in pretty fashion and Hernandez’s fade from glory has been difficult. Since July 1, 2018, Hernandez has won just a single game for the Mariners in his last 25 outings, including 24 starts.

The winningest pitcher in Mariners history has gone just 1-15 with a 6.44 ERA over the last 15 months, including 1-7 with a 6.51 ERA in 14 starts while earning $27 million in this final season of his seven-year, $175 million contract.

Hernandez’s lone win this year came in his first start on April 1, against the Angels. Since then, it’s been six months of struggle and a slow acceptance by Hernandez that his body is no longer as strong as his mind.

“There are a lot of miles on this arm,” Hernandez finally admitted several months ago as he fought to get over the shoulder issue that sidelined him for nearly four months.

But Hernandez also retains a fierce pride and belief that he can still be a quality Major League starter. He was stung by a late-season demotion to the bullpen last year -- a move that lasted just one week until teammate James Paxton got hit by a line drive and Hernandez was pushed back into the rotation.

That one bullpen outing -- on Aug. 14, 2018, in Oakland -- is the lone non-start on Hernandez’s Mariners’ resume. It also seemed to cement the fact that Hernandez no longer fit in Seattle’s plans. The Mariners are in a rebuilding mode and have moved on from most of their high-priced veterans, leaving Hernandez as something of a solitary figure this year on a team now focused on developing promising prospects.

Hernandez was once the most promising of prospects himself, but it’s been 15 years since he broke into the big leagues as a teen phenom and proceeded to put up a dominant decade that included a perfect game, six All-Star appearances, an American League Cy Young Award and 10 straight seasons with 30-plus starts and 190-plus innings.

Now the man who made an MLB record 16 straight starts of seven-plus innings while allowing two or fewer runs in 2014 only made it to the seventh inning twice this season. He’ll give it one last go Thursday before becoming a free agent at season’s end.

Mariners fans have snapped up tickets to an expanded King’s Court for the occasion. There figures to be cheers and tears, and in the end a salute to one of the greatest players to grace the Mariners uniform.

“I know it’s going to hit me at some point,” Hernandez said. “I don’t know if I’m going to be emotional, I don’t know if I’m going to be quiet. I don’t know if I’m going to be happy. I don’t know.”

One thing he does know. He’s not ready for this to be the end.

“I don’t want to retire yet,” he said. “I can go out there and compete with anybody. It was a tough year with my shoulder, but I think if I’m healthy, I can compete.”

Whether another team is willing to offer Hernandez a Major League contract next season, or if he’d be willing to accept a Minor League deal with a shot at making some club, remains to be seen. But first, there’ll be one last night for The King in Seattle.

And then the reign will come to an end.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.