Félix takes mound for first time in a year

Six-time All-Star tops out at 86 mph in debut with Orioles

March 7th, 2021

SARASOTA, Fla. -- didn’t just look different Saturday in his return to the mound after nearly a year, sporting Oriole orange and black for the first time in a game setting. He also looked like a different pitcher than his days in Seattle.

Battling decreased velocity in the Orioles’ 6-5 loss to the Tigers at Ed Smith Stadium, Hernández topped out at 86 mph while allowing two runs over two innings in his spring debut. The six-time All-Star walked two, struck out two and allowed one hit, throwing 34 pitches. Hernández 34, is in camp on a Minor League deal that will pay him $1 million if he cracks the O’s Opening Day roster.

“It was the first day after a year off,” Hernández said. “I didn’t pay attention to [velocity]. I just went out there and competed.”

Before Saturday, Hernández last pitched competitively in March 2020, when he was fighting for a job in the Braves rotation. He then decided not to play in 2020 due to health concerns. The last time he pitched in the regular season, in 2019, his fastball averaged 89.4 mph, per Statcast. Hernández went 1-8 with a 6.40 ERA in 15 starts for the Mariners in ’19.

Asked after his outing Saturday if he felt rusty, Hernández acknowledged that he did.

"I felt real quick to the plate, like I was rushing the ball and opening myself real quick,” he said. “I will be better at the end of the spring.”

Hernández didn’t unleash his entire repertoire Saturday, saying later he eschewed his changeup entirely during the outing. That wasn’t initially clear because, from the onset, his fastball hovered in the mid-80s. Hernández recorded both strikeouts -- of Niko Goodrum in the first and Isaac Paredes in the second -- on breaking balls. Both the runs against Hernandez came in the second, when he struck out Paredes, issued consecutive walks to Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, then allowed a run-scoring single to Christin Stewart on a fastball. Dustin Garneau drove in the second run with a groundout.

“I’m not a guy who throws that many walks,” Hernández said. “I’m a guy that attacks the strike zone and goes after hitters. It’ll change after I do that.”

The Orioles are hoping that it does. They’d love to see Hernández assert himself in their crowded rotation mix behind John Means, at the very least to eat innings as they manage the workloads of young starters like Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin and others. Hernández is the most decorated of the three veterans brought in on Minor League deals to help provide that depth, competing this spring with Matt Harvey and Wade LeBlanc. LeBlanc (two scoreless innings Wednesday) had the best first week of Grapefruit League play of the trio, while Harvey endured a shaky debut Friday.

From the trainer’s room

The tweaked left hamstring DJ Stewart sustained Friday will sideline the outfielder until at least next week, manager Brandon Hyde said Saturday. One of the hottest Orioles hitters early in camp, Stewart was injured running out a potential double-play ball in Friday’s 13-4 loss to the Blue Jays, halting his pursuit of regular at-bats in the outfield or at designated hitter. Austin Hays seems the likely candidate to benefit, should Stewart’s injury linger, though Yusniel Díaz, Ryan McKenna and others will continue to get looks in the outfield this spring.

The hip soreness that made Freddy Galvis a late scratch Thursday did not sideline the Orioles' new shortstop for long. Galvis returned to the starting lineup Saturday, going hitless in two at bats.

More from the game

Following a rough spring debut Monday against the Phillies, rotation hopeful Jorge López turned in one of the strongest pitching performances of any Oriole this spring behind Hernández. López struck out three over three scoreless innings, allowing one hit and walking none. The right-hander went 2-2 with a 6.34 ERA in nine games (six starts) for Baltimore down the stretch in 2020; he’s out of options and could make the club in a swingman role.

Up Next

Means toes the rubber for the second time this spring when the Orioles travel to Bradenton, Fla., for a Sunday matinee against the Pirates. Right-hander JT Brubaker starts for Pittsburgh, with first pitch is set for 1:05 pm ET from LECOM Field.