TORONTO – There is lots of intrigue building around Felix Hernandez right now, and how his future plays out this winter is something the Toronto Blue Jays will be watching closely.
The dominant right-hander struck out a season-high 11 batters over eight strong innings in a 5-4 Seattle Mariners victory at the Rogers Centre on Thursday night, further bolstering his case for the Cy Young Award.
Josh Wilson hit a two-run triple in the eighth off Jesse Carlson (1-6) to break a 3-3 tie and help Hernandez (17-5) win his third consecutive start.
The 23-year-old was nearly untouchable through five frames before Vernon Wells hit a three-run blast to tie things up in the sixth. Wells added an RBI single in the eighth to make it a one-run game, but David Aardsma shut down the Blue Jays (69-84) in the ninth for his 36th save before a crowd of 15,306.
“His stuff was unbelievable tonight,” said Wells, who homered at home for the first time since Aug. 21. “He left a lot of guys shaking their heads, just trying to figure out what to do to put a ball in play.
“He’s not going to make too many mistakes, he’s going to keep the ball down, everything is moving, and everything is hard. If you do get a pitch, you’ve got to put it in play and try to find a hole. We didn’t really do that too often.”
The troubles with Wells aside, Hernandez reminded all why the Mariners (80-73) have such a big decision looming with the ace, who may be signed to a long-term extension over the winter, or may be traded.
His name popped up in trade rumours in July, and now there are murmurs of future contract talks with Seattle. Either way, whatever happens has the potential to impact the Blue Jays, who must decide what course of action to take with Roy Halladay in their planning for 2010.
Halladay – set to make yet another possible final home start Friday night – could also be dealt this winter, depending on how the organization chooses to move its aimlessly adrift club forward. If both he and Hernandez end up on the trade market together, the Blue Jays could lose some leverage – the way Cliff Lee’s availability hurt them this summer.
Hernandez, making US$3.8 million this season and arbitration-eligible, is a younger, less expensive option who can’t become a free agent until after the 2011 season. Halladay, due to make $15.75 million next year, hits the open market after 2010. If a team intends to gut its farm system to make a deal, Hernandez probably makes more sense.
“I don’t know if anyone has impacted the club this year greater than he has,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said in praising him. “You’ve got to remember, too, he’s 23 years old.”
The belief is he’s more likely to sign an extension with Seattle, and there’s fallout there too. Any such deal could establish the market for elite starters and mean that if the Blue Jays wanted to try and sign Halladay to an extension, or grant a potential trade partner a window to negotiate a new contract with him, Hernandez’s deal would influence the price.
“The discussion has to start with him,” Wells said when asked where Hernandez ranks among the best young pitchers in the game. “When he’s like he was tonight, it’s fun to watch, it’s not fun to be in the box facing it.
“It’s amazing the kind of stuff he has at such a young age.”
Added Jays shortstop John McDonald: “He just gets ground ball after ground ball with his power sinker and he can blow you away with a four-seamer and he’s got a very good breaking ball. It seems like he was really in control of what he was doing on the mound, and in that regard he’s similar to how (Halladay) has been over the years.”
The Blue Jays did their best to derail his bid for the Cy Young – he’s a top contender with Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia – but the Mariners did too much early damage against rookie Ricky Romero.
Matt Tuiasosopo opened the scoring with a sacrifice fly in the second and Franklin Gutierrez added a two-run shot in third for a 3-0 edge.
The Mariners should have had plenty more as the leadoff batter reached in six of the first seven innings, but Romero and reliever Shawn Camp, who cleaned up a two-on, one-out mess in the seventh, kept the floodgates from opening.
“It’s fun when you go up against a guy who has a chance to win the Cy Young this year,” said Romero. “To get behind a guy like that, you can’t do that.”
Veteran Mariners DH Mike Sweeney left the game after getting hit by a pitch on the right foot in the second inning. Ken Griffey Jr. replaced him and received a nice ovation from the crowd.
Notes: GM J.P. Ricciardi offered up a slew of updates on Jays players and prospects before the game. SP Dustin McGowan (shoulder, knee) is throwing with some zip again and will soon move to 110 feet. … J.P. Arencibia underwent surgery on his kidney earlier this month while fellow catching prospect Brian Jeroloman needs surgery on his hip. Both were slated to play in the Arizona Fall League, but won’t. They should be ready for next spring. … Headed to the AFL are: Brad Mills and Robert Ray, who both spent time in Toronto this season, along with fellow starter Rey Gonzalez, who would have been in the majors instead of Mark Rzepczynski if not for a groin injury; 1B David Cooper; 2B Brad Eamus; OF Adam Loewen, who is currently with Canada at the IBAF World Cup; and New Hampshire Fisher Cats manager Gary Cathcart. … The Jays have been impressed by the work of September call-up Kyle Phillips and feel he could play a role for them in 2010. … Ricciardi envisions Jason Frasor and Scott Downs sharing the closer’s role to start next year, and pegs Jeremy Accardo as a seventh-inning guy.