BY Art Thiel 10:20PM 05/04/2011

Thiel: Felix, Pineda share the fearless gene

As did Felix in 2005, the rookie fires it hard to the big boys. The Rangers Wednesday night had a hard response.

Michael Pineda threw 77 strikes Wednesday, a few of which came back to haunt. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest file

Most impressive, according to the pitching coach, is that the rookie didn’t pay much deference to any of the men menacing him with a wood club.

“He never backs down,” Bryan Price said. “He’s always attacking. He’s never short in self-esteem and confidence.”

That was Felix Hernandez then, in his 2005 rookie year. It is Michael Pineda now, in his 2011 rookie year.

“You see that with some guys,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge, musing on Pineda before his start Wednesday night against Texas. “He does a good job of just pitching, regardless of who’s in the box.”

Price, now Cincinnati’s pitching coach, was in his final season in Seattle when Hernandez, then 19, sent his first signals of the sensational, starting 12 games and finishing with a 2.67 ERA.

Price hasn’t seen Pineda, but some of those who have suggest the American League’s rookie of the month for April shares another characteristic with the reigning Cy Young Award winner.

“When you’re young and have a lot of expectations on you, the major league clubhouse is not the easiest environment,” said Price by phone from the Reds clubhouse. “Felix gave players of accomplishment a lot of respect. He was quiet, attentive to instruction, worked well with the catchers and didn’t bring attention to himself.”

Mariners relief pitcher Jamey Wright, a 12-year veteran, was all over the same point regarding Pineda.

“I’ve seen guys with that kind of talent who think they are entitled,” said Wright, 36 and a 12-year major league vet. “Not one time have I had that thought about him.”

“I’ve seen plenty of talented guys who didn’t have that desire. I went up to him and told him he was doing a good job by working hard.”

Wright first laid wide eyes on Pineda last summer, when both were in Triple A. Wright recalled his hot Sacramento team getting shut down by the Tacoma Rainiers pitcher, who then bumped into Wright the next day in the weight room.

“After he had a good game, he wasn’t going through the motions – he was getting after it,” Wright said. “I saw how he was going about his business. That told me all I needed to know. If he keeps the same attitude, there will be a lot exciting games to watch when he’s on the mound.”

Drama was apparent to the cozy few (13,896) Wednesday, even though Pineda took the loss, 5-2. Pineda pounded the strike zone dramatically all evening, yet the Rangers guessed well enough.

In the first inning, the 22-year-old Dominican gave up three hits and two runs, then quieted the party by retiring the next nine batters.

In the third, the Rangers’ leading hitter, Michael Young, struck out on three pitches that would take a physicist most of a day to explain.

But in the fifth, Pineda gave up his first home run of the season, a fastball dead-red that Mitch Moreland sent 400 feet. In the seventh, Chris Davis returned a similar 96 mph bullet to deep right center.

The Rangers are the first team to see Pineda a second time, having handed him his first loss April 5, in which he gave up three runs in six innings. In seven innings Wednesday, he gave up seven hits, four runs, no walks and struck out nine.

Of his 97 pitches, 77 were strikes. That ratio represents a serious manhood challenge to a good-hitting team, and the Rangers responded, although manager Ron Washington had no time for the notion that seeing Pineda a second time was useful.

“The key for us is to get his pitch count up and get him out of the game,’’ Washington told SPNW’s John Hickey this week. “So, no, I don’t think there’s any advantage to seeing him a second time. It’s almost going to be like facing another (expletive) Felix Hernandez.”

Almost. Pineda still needs more development on his breaking pitches and a willingness to make major league hitters chase outside the strike zone. But he did what Wedge asked.

“We ask the same from every (starter),” he said. “Just give us a chance to win the game.”

They didn’t win, thanks mostly to a humble offense. And a couple of humble moments from Pineda.

“He’ll have games where he leaves scratching his head,” said Wright, “but that’s when you learn your strengths and weaknesses.”

That’s what Hernandez did over five seasons, even after defeats and puzzling losses of control. And now he’s Pineda’s mentor.

“Felix never pitches defensively,” Price said. “That aggressive mindset leaves him less vulnerable.”

Pineda will be scratching his head today. The itch among the Mariners, however, is to see to see the next Hernandez while the first is still around.

Follow Art on Twitter at @Art_Thiel


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