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King Felix Demoted: Mariners Move Former Ace To Reliever Role

Brandon Wade
AP Photo
Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez reacts after allowing a soft bunt-single by Texas Rangers' Carlos Tocci during the third inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. The Rangers won 11-4.

For the first time since he was drafted by the Mariners in 2005, former American League Cy Young award winner Felix Hernandez has been demoted from the starting rotation to the bullpen. Mariners manager Scott Servais made the announcement Thursday night.

Felix, who pitched a perfect game in 2012, is having the worst season of his career this year as the team is vying for the playoffs.  KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel spoke by phone early Friday morning with KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick.

'A Difficult Transition'

"Going from a starter to reliever in the middle of the season is an extremely difficult thing to do. And I don't think Felix is up for doing really difficult things right now," Thiel said.

"When you go to a relief pitching role, your routine is completely different than a starter. You've gotta be able to warm up quickly, get into ballgames quickly, you may have to pitch two or three days in a row and you have to be instantly successful when you get into the game."

"That's something Felix has struggled with this year and even past years. That first inning has always been a problem so he might be the least qualified guy to handle a job that only entails one inning."

"Physically, it's a difficult chore."

'This Is A Demotion'

Thiel said how Felix will handle the move emotionally is an even a bigger question.

"Felix is a kind of stubborn guy. He's not used to change. He doesn't like change. In fact, he's been stubborn about his use of analytics and the information that coaches now provide pitchers about opposing batters and about his own delivery. He hasn't adapted very well to the new information."

"And, more importantly, this is a demotion. This is a letdown. This is an embarrassment. Felix is a prideful guy and I think he's going to look at this poorly."

"I think he's going to have to go along with it - he's got no choice. But that doesn't mean he likes it. And it doesn't mean he's going to adapt to it immediately."

'Least Worst Option'

Thiel said the team can't demote Felix to Triple-A because there's nothing for him to work on to get better. And they wouldn't do it anyway because of his stature as the face of the franchise.

"They can't cut him because they owe him $27 million next year as well as the balance of his contract this year."

"So I guess this is the least worst option and it's going to be a real tough thing for him emotionally."

'Tough Situation'

Thiel said the final straw for the team was Felix's last outing against the Texas Rangers Tuesday night, when 11 runs scored while he was on the mound over six innings.

"I don't know what kind of success they're going to have with him because if they can't trust him to get that one inning, they just may not use him."

"It's a really difficult thing for the club to do in the middle of a drive for the (wild card) playoff bid. It had to be done but it's a real tough situation for all concerned."

Never miss an episode again. Subscribe to Sports With Art Thiel on iTunes or Google Play. You can find Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.