While a heat wave rolled through much of the country, a perfect storm was forming on the west coast Thursday night. The Seattle Mariners past, present and future was on full display, embodied in three starting pitchers – Felix Hernandez, Jamie Moyer and Danny Hultzen.
The present: King Felix delights his “supreme” court.
Felix Hernandez submitted yet another classic performance in shutting down the resurgent Boston Red Sox 1-0 at Safeco Field Thursday night. King Felix used 128 pitches over 9 innings to record a career-high 13 strikeouts. After starting the season slowly and seeing his pitch velocity topping out between 91 and 93 mph, Hernandez has been gaining velocity every outing and is again throwing upper 90’s heat.
But even as Felix was leading the way for the Mariners (that’s not news), an equally intriguing game was being played far away from the bright lights of Safeco Field. Just 50 kms south, a minor league matchup pitted the Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners affiliate) against the Las Vegas 51s (Jays affiliate) and showcased two pitchers at opposite ends of their professional careers.
The past: Jamie Moyer won’t stop believing.
Jamie Moyer, the former Mariners ace, signed a minor league contract with the Las Vegas 51s this week. The agreement suggests that the Jays will decide whether to promote Moyer (or not) after two triple-A starts.
At 49, Moyer is by far the oldest member of the 51s. He is being considered because the Jays starting rotation has been decimated by a combination of injury and mediocre performance. After being released by the Colorado Rockies and Baltimore Orioles earlier this season, Moyer still aims to compete at the sports the highest level. His quest to return to the majors brought Moyer back to a market he once owned.
During his time in Seattle, Moyer led the team both on and off the field. In the 2001 season, Moyer was a 20-win anchor for a pitching staff that won a record 116 games. As a leader in the community, the Moyer Foundation has remained active in the region long after the pitcher ended his Mariners tenure.
Thursday was, in a way, a return home for the soft-tossing lefty, who is clearly still loved in the Pacific Northwest. The last time Moyer made a start in Tacoma was during a 1997 rehab assignment with the Rainiers. On Thursday, Moyer received roaring applause from the sellout crowd as he walked in from the bullpen before the game. The pitcher appropriately tipped his cap to the crowd acknowledging the fans appreciation.
Once the game started, Moyer displayed his varied arsenal of slow, slower and slowest pitches. He topped out at 84 mph, but sat comfortably between 70 and 80 mph for much of the game. After running into trouble in the first two innings, Moyer settled down and blanked the Rainiers over the next three. He exited after throwing 82 pitches, 51 of them for strikes and handed off a 7-3 lead.
It was by no means a dominating performance and the end is clearly nearing for Moyer. The only question is whether the former Mariner can throw father time a change-up to earn one more major league ride.
The future: Danny Hultzen rises.
Moyer’s opponent on Thursday was young Danny Hultzen, the second overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft who was making his first home start for the Rainiers.
After blazing through the AA ranks earlier this season, Hultzen has been pegged as a future number two starter for the Mariners behind Hernandez. The pitcher may have found the game particularly unnerving facing such an accomplished opponent. By the time Hultzen was born in the fall of 1989, Moyer had already made 94 starts in the major leagues. For further context, it should be noted that Thursday was not the first time the two pitchers had crossed paths.
When Hultzen led his University of Virginia team to the 2011 college world series, none other than one Jamie Moyer was serving as an analyst for ESPN. Moyer’s analysis was not entirely flattering and focused on the prospects need to develop his complementary pitches and his inability to hold runners on base. Fair or not, the comments were surely not forgotten before the game last night.
Against the 51s, Hultzen was consistently hitting 92-93 mph, but struggled mightily with his control, walking in a run during the second inning. The command problems are particularly surprising for the lefty and in sharp contrast to the tight control he displayed in college, Arizona fall league and AA.
Hultzen left after four innings, 90 pitches and with a 3-1 lead. His stuff was impressive, but he may require more time to harness it at the next level. Still, Hultzen looks like a star in waiting and is certainly a key to the Mariners future.
Three pitchers thinking about tomorrow.
Like ships in the night, the three pitchers passed one another Thursday as they each pursue their major league dreams. Each has built an impressive list of past accomplishments, each has designs on future professional glory and each lives in the present just trying to get the next out.
Notes: Shortstop Nick Franklin played second base and third baseman Alex Liddi played first. A possibly interesting development considering the continued struggles of Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak with the big club.