King Felix of the Seattle Mariners is a staff ace in every sense of the word.
The reigning American League Cy Young winner, Felix Hernández was, of course, the right man to guide his team out of the 17-game losing streak that had become the embarrassment of the league. In true ace fashion, Hernández threw 112 pitches in seven innings for a long-overdue victory against the New York Yankees Wednesday afternoon.
But it’s what Hernández does in the dugout and off the field that defines his true leadership.
At the young age of 25, Hernández – heretofore the young pitcher who took advice from wily veterans – is now paying it forward to some of Seattle’s youngsters.
Take Michael Pineda, the Seattle rookie whom Hernández took under his wing when the 2011 season was barely underway. It was spring training in Arizona, and the King was going over the ins-and-outs with the rookie of what it would take to become a Major Leaguer.
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Playing the role of big brother, Hernández went over the necessary workouts that Pineda would need to do succeed. They went over scouting reports for upcoming starts, spoke about how the 6-foot-7-inch Dominican would have to attack hitters had had never faced, how to prepare for road trips, and pre-game tips.
“I've just given him advice,” Hernández told Fox News Latino. “I think you don't have to help him that much because he has the talent.
“He's going to be one of our best pitchers here,” King Felix added. “What really has impressed me is the way he has prepared himself.”
The tutelage paid off. Pineda was impressive at the early outset of the season, winning six of his first nine starts, earning him a trip to the All-Star game in Phoenix.
“Felix has been on me all of the time,” Pineda said. “Helping and showing how things are. It's an experience that's hard but you have to be mentally tough.
“Since we were in spring training, which was my first, he was always explaining to me how to approach the system here in the Major Leagues,” Pineda, 22, added. “He's helped me a lot. I appreciate him a lot from my heart. He's been like a brother that's older than me who has helped me so that I can get to where I am today.”
Pineda has struggled of late, however, going 2-5 with a pair of no decisions since May 27. During the losing skid he lost two and received a no decision in another start.
“I told him…that this happens,” Hernández advised. “You will go through these streaks. What you need to do is work hard and try to stop it.
Hernández should know. The man who stopped the bleeding allowed only five hits and one run – he struck out five hitters and walked four – leading the M’s to the 9-2 triumph. He improved his record to 5-0 against the Yankees in his last six starts against them.
Hernández himself wasn’t immune to the losing before Wednesday afternoon, though. He had lost his last two starts against Texas and at Boston, and got a no-decision on the road against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim prior to those two outings.
Hernández and the Mariners finally turned it around on Wednesday. The staff ace probably relied on tips he had received from veterans like Eddie Guardado – Everyday Eddie – who counseled Hernández when he first arrived to the Pacific Northwest.
Now, he’s passing that knowledge on to Pineda.
That generosity isn’t lost on teammates and coaches. Mariners bullpen coach Jaime Navarro probably knows Pineda better than anyone: he coached the young pitcher at Class-A ball with Wisconsin in 2008 and High Desert in 2009, and last year at Triple-A Tacoma.
He said the guidance that Hernández has given Pineda has been invaluable.
“He’s helped him with the game’s drama and how things work,” Navarro said of Hernández. “Felix has been a big influence on Michael with the good relationship that they already.
“It gives him more confidence,” he added, referring to Pineda. “Felix is a guy that has always helped out with the younger guys.”
Adry Torres, who has covered MLB, NFL, NBA and NCAA basketball games and related events, is a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @adrytorresnyc.