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Ks4Vets: Felix, Carhartt partner to help vets

Mariners star returns to Detroit to start series opener
MLB.com

Comerica Park is where it all began for Felix Hernandez. On Aug. 4, 2005, at the age of 19 years and 118 days, wearing a glove with the inscription el cartelua (Venezuelan slang for "badass"), he confidently made his Major League debut for the Mariners and notched his first of 2,284 career strikeouts, against future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez.

On Tuesday night, King Felix will return to the mound in Detroit for his 364th career start, and at age 31, his propensity for striking out batters is closely monitored -- not only in the impact it has on the Mariners, but also in the impact it has on the lives of others.

Comerica Park is where it all began for Felix Hernandez. On Aug. 4, 2005, at the age of 19 years and 118 days, wearing a glove with the inscription el cartelua (Venezuelan slang for "badass"), he confidently made his Major League debut for the Mariners and notched his first of 2,284 career strikeouts, against future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez.

On Tuesday night, King Felix will return to the mound in Detroit for his 364th career start, and at age 31, his propensity for striking out batters is closely monitored -- not only in the impact it has on the Mariners, but also in the impact it has on the lives of others.

Hernandez (20 strikeouts in 2017) has joined Chris Sale (42) of the Red Sox, Jacob deGrom (32) of the Mets, Corey Kluber (27) of the Indians and Michael Fulmer (23) of the Tigers to comprise the unique "Carhartt Starting Rotation" that is being tracked with the hashtag #Ks4Vets to help a cause close to each pitcher's heart during the regular season.

For every strikeout recorded by these five pitchers -- a total of 144 so far in four starts for each -- Carhartt, America's leading workwear brand, will donate $100 to Helmets to Hardhats, a national nonprofit program that helps military service members successfully transition back into civilian life by offering them the means to secure a quality career in the building and trade industry. Carhartt will donate an additional $25,000 to Helmets to Hardhats if the Carhartt Starting Rotation exceeds the strikeout totals of every other team's top five starting pitchers on the season.

Video: Pitching Mechanics: Felix Hernandez

"In the offseason, when my agent asked me about this project, I was really happy to help," Hernandez said. "It means a lot. They protect the country. I would love to help the vets. They are unbelievable for this country, and whatever I can do to help would be awesome."

If the five Carhartt starters each match their season-best strikeout total, then the overall donation for individual strikeouts would be $112,800. Those previous bests were 274 by Sale in 2015, 269 by Kluber in '14, 248 by Hernandez in '14, 205 by deGrom in '15 and 132 by Fulmer as a rookie last year.

Hernandez is carrying his weight in that "rotation" so far, mixing the usual array of four-seamer, sinker, change, slider and curve. April has been a freakish month for him in terms of control. Hernandez has 20 strikeouts so far against only one walk; his career K/BB ratio is 3.28. Most notably, there was an epic 14-pitch duel with Mike Trout two weeks ago in Anaheim, where Hernandez finally caught him looking in the longest at-bat for both superstars.

"The strikeouts are going to come," Hernandez said after an April 15 win over Texas. "You don't have to look for them. Just pitch around the plate, throw a lot of strikes and they'll come."

Hernandez is in his 13th big league season, and he's on pace to eventually assume the lead of MLB's active strikeout list, unless CC Sabathia and Bartolo Colon keep pitching forever. Given that body of work to date, it is surprising that Hernandez has made only seven starts at Comerica since that first one. He is 9-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 15 starts against Detroit, but he has not started there since 2014, and only once in the past five years. He has topped four strikeouts there only once since '09. For those tracking, here is his history at Comerica:

Aug. 16, 2014: 3 K's, L
April 25, 2012: 2 K's, W
June 12, 2011: 6 K's, W
April 26, 2011: 4 K's, W
Aug. 18, 2009: 9 K's, ND
July 22, 2009: 8 K's, W
Sept. 9, 2007: 4 K's, W
Aug. 4, 2006: 4 K's, L

Hernandez is one of only nine pitchers in MLB history with at least 2,200 strikeouts, 2,400 innings pitched and 150 wins. As for the others, all but Sabathia are in the Hall of Fame: Bert Blyleven, Don Drysdale, Bob Feller, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver.

Tweet from @Carhartt: We are excited to announce we have teamed up with @HelmetsToHardhats for another season of #Ks4Vets & we have an all-star starting rotation. pic.twitter.com/w1076dCv2l

The "rotation" concept is an expansion of what Carhartt did last year when it teamed up with Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner to donate $125,500 to Helmets to Hardhats. With that money, the organization helped more than 120 veterans receive training and secure a career in the construction trades. The MLB Players Association supported the expansion of the program to include the five star pitchers, and Carhartt expects more money to be donated this season.

"The men and women who serve in the armed forces and work in the construction trades epitomize the meaning of hard work," said Tony Ambroza, Carhartt's senior vice president of marketing. "That's why we're proud to partner with Helmets to Hardhats in expanding the Strikeouts for Vets program this year. We're confident that we've put together a group of pitchers that will outwork them all, and we look forward to writing a large check in support of Helmets to Hardhats at the end of the season."

"Last year's Strikeouts for Vets campaign was a great success," said Darrell Roberts, executive director of Helmets to Hardhats. "Beyond the monetary donation, it increased awareness of building trades apprenticeships and construction career opportunities throughout the United States. We look forward to another year of partnering with Carhartt and the pitchers, whose efforts are going to enable us to change veterans' lives by assisting them in finding and beginning a new career."

Follow Carhartt and the Strikeouts for Vets campaign at facebook.com/carhartt and @Carhartt or track the campaign using #Ks4Vets.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. MLB.com Mariners beat reporter Greg Johns contributed to this story.

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