BY Art Thiel 04:29PM 08/08/2018

Thiel: From bosses to mound, Mariners aflame

Letting a vulnerable Felix Hernandez dangle for six innings Tuesday was a new season low. Then the Mariners played worse Tuesday. Even the bosses are embarrassing.

The decline of Felix Hernandez has no good solution. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest file

For a team having its best season in 15 years, with a record (65-50) every fan would have been thrilled with at season’s start, the Mariners are beset with a trudge through a compost pile of unusual size and odor. Worse, it has been of their own creation.

As if ending a playoff drought of 16 seasons wasn’t sufficiently difficult.

The 11-7 loss in Texas Wednesday (box) would have been worse than the 11-4 defeat Tuesday, except Tuesday contained the latest and most gruesome chapter of the rolling debacle that is Felix Hernandez.

Sending out the one-time franchise superstar for the fifth and sixth innings when he had nothing, leading to a career-worst 11 runs surrendered, was perhaps the most wretched single-game episode for a star athlete in my time writing about Seattle sports.

His agonizing public fade follows the magnum foolishness from Robinson Cano that caused his 80-game suspension for use of a masking agent that violated MLB’s PED policy. That was preceded by the awkwardness with Ichiro, who was forced upon the Mariners roster at the request of minority owner Nintendo despite the fact that he could no longer play at a major league level.

Beyond the player-personnel fiascoes, ownership and management contributed its share of tumult when the Seattle Times disclosed episodes of sexual harassment in the front office earlier in the decade that resulted in settlements with victims. The perps included club president Kevin Mather, who issued a statement of apology but has not otherwise explained himself nor acknowledged any sanctions.

At nearly the same time, ownership went to King County with a request for more than $180 million over 20 years to help with capital projects at Safeco Field.

Regardless of the terms of the lease, the ask for revenues from a hotel/motel tax comes at a time when homelessness in Seattle has become a nearly unsolvable crisis. The controversy puts politicians who support the request in the crosshairs of advocates who say private enterprise should be part of the solution instead of adding to the problem. When the Mariners need friends, they created contempt.

It’s true that every team every season has personnel dramas and off-field controversies.  Good teams often find ways to overcome. As bad as the Mariners have played since their eight-game win streak ended July 3, they are only 2½ games behind Oakland for the final playoff spot.

Still, the Mariners’ baseball mess seems more acute because it consumes their three highest-profile baseball figures, all of whom are in decline, and two of which are its highest-paid.

The baseball people finally pushed Ichiro off the roster into a made-up job that saved some face and kept him in uniform. Cano’s embarrassment officially ends Tuesday when he returns to the lineup. But no one knows whether his offense has degraded, nor how he will respond to the first position change in his long career.

There is no good solution for Hernandez, unless you think hiding a guy on the disabled list is the right answer for someone who, in his last outing, pitched six innings without a health issue. His problems are emotional and psychological — he’s embarrassed and furious that he can’t adapt to his diminished physical prowess in order to postpone his professional demise.

Since realistically he can’t be traded, cut or demoted, Hernandez will have to be marginalized and ignored — after letting him twist in the wind Tuesday. It’s true that Monday the Mariners burned through seven relievers to eke out a one-run win in 12 innings. But to get caught the next night needing six innings from a franchise icon at his most vulnerable is bad personnel management.

They had to know each of his starts would require a long man ready in the pen — unless the club wanted to create a message to Hernandez as well as his teammates by embarrassing him. I choose to think the Mariners are better than that, but such speculation is inevitable in light of watching the sordidness of his final innings.

Even his good friend, the Rangers’ Adrian Beltre, after hitting a home run off him, could not work up the gumption to indulge in the tandem’s tradition of good-natured mockery.

“I couldn’t do that in that situation,” Beltre told reporters Wednesday. “We talked last night. He expected me to do it and asked me why I didn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. If it was a close game, yeah, I would do whatever. In that situation, I’m going to respect him and his teammates.”

Respect? Maybe. I’d say it’s more like Hernandez as an object of pity. For an elite, highly competitive athlete who is also a team leader, there are few more compromising positions.

After Marco Gonzales (seven runs and 12 hits in five innings) Wednesday duplicated Hernandez’s futility, and after new reliever Sam Tuivailala strained his Achilles tendon in a botched rundown, manager Scott Servais resisted raging.

“I think (steadiness) is the key,” he said post-game. “When it gets hot, fuses get shorter.”

Perhaps so. Better to stay cool when facing Astros’ ace Justin Verlander in Thursday’s start of a four-game series in Houston. Otherwise, the hot mess gets hotter and messier.


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YourThoughts

  • coug73

    At this point in the season the Mariners are a ship wreck, sad. The only drama left is how the management handles Felix and Cano.

    • art thiel

      Well, they’re beating up Verlander right now. Better get them off your gangplank.

  • Ron
    • art thiel

      Cold, brutha.

  • DonMac

    Art, thank you again for being the most articulate and forthright of all of the press covering Seattle sports. If I’m not mistaken, all the Mariners did was switch the deck chairs on the Titantic when John Stanton went from a minority to majority owner of the team. The same losing mindset still prevails and as long as this is the case the Mariners will continue to fail as evidenced by the ongoing ineptitude of both the front office and the on-field management. In this day and age, to continue to employ someone, in the upper echelon of management mind you, who has been accused by multiple victims of sexual harassment as well as having the nerve to ask for more corporate welfare for a billionaire team owner is indefensible.

    • art thiel

      I don’t think Stanton is the same old, same old. I do think he and ownership mishandled the harassment issue, particularly with the pending ask for public funds. That was tone deaf.

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    Imploding right on schedule , just in time for the Dawgs and Hawks .

    • art thiel

      Wait until they kick Verlander’s butt tonight.

      • Effzee

        Right on queue…. 3 in the 1st, 3 in the 2nd….

  • ReebHerb

    The Mariners are tired except for old man Cruz. The talking sports heads are no longer yapping about resting players and positioning for the playoffs. My eyes are as good as theirs. We still have some good stories on the team and are hoping to catch a second wind. Last year Oakland couldn’t field. This year they’re on a rampage. I admire them for putting together very competitive teams each decade with little resources.

    • art thiel

      The A’s can circle the drain as well as the Mariners.

  • Effzee

    Felix laughing at Beltre’s strikeout is all you need to know. On the one hand, its nice to see that people can still have a sense of humor in this world. On the other hand, it totally exemplified the Mariners’ long history of not being a serious baseball franchise. And then he got shellacked. Sigh. Well, at least the M’s made not-football season a bit funner this year. They were like a balloon that you fill up but then it slips out of your fingers before you can tie it off and it just flies around the room aimlessly until it falls back to Earth.

    • art thiel

      The shrinking-balloon analogy. You’re the first to deploy this season. Congrats.

      I’m not sure the Hernandez-Beltre friendship has any odious elements. I thought the episode was funny, well apart from the franchise history.

      • Effzee

        It was funny, for sure. It was juts bad optics in the midst of the recent losing spells and Felix’s demise.

    • Ed Norton

      I think that the rude sound the balloon makes as the air escapes makes good accompaning audio for the decline of the Mariner season.

  • Alan Harrison

    Art, I could have dealt with Cano’s suspension, if only because I believed the people who thought it had been happening all along. I could have dealt with Felix’s demise, however sad, because it hasn’t been short-term, subtle, or manageable – it’s been going on for a few years now and the collective response for coaches, fans, and media alike has been fingers-in-the-ears-la-la-la-la-la-la-la. And why not? He’s Seattle’s Steve Carlton, in a sense. Overpaying Seager and Zunino (who, while an excellent defensive catcher, simply cannot hit) is typical sentimental garbage that winning teams generally do not do. But that I could have dealt with, too. What tipped it away from the M’s for me was the constellation of poor front office policy decisions, the straw for which was the $180 million they want to take away, in a broad and virtual sense, from the homeless. That, on top of Mather’s and the team’s open harassment policy, the greedy and obvious movement against a SODO plan (even if they were not the tipping point, they certainly didn’t help matters any) made me buy an old-timey Pilots shirt so that I can root against the Brewers (aka, the original Thunder).

    • art thiel

      No doubt the ask for public funds is going to irk a lot of people in Seattle, especially since their fellow Hansen opponents, the Oak View Group, is funding the Key remodel privately, making the Mariners look cheap.

  • gs howard howard

    Why does Mather even have a job at this point? I mean aside from his apparent office improprieties it seems his biggest achievements to the team have been to extend Jack Zduriencik and Jerry Dipoto midseason only to watch the season unravel soon after both moves. Zduriencik was fired and the jury is still out on Dipoto but he is hampered by the awful contracts to Cano and Seager. Both seem likely to be collecting paychecks from Seattle long after their MLB careers have ended. I assume that is another Gift of the Mather…

    • art thiel

      It might be worthwhile to let this season play out before firing everyone.

  • Kevin Lynch

    As much as I wholeheartedly agree with the article and the blogs this is baseball and they are just three back from a playoff spot. So it’s possible. No Buhner or Randy Johnson on this team though. They need a few lightening rods who can really spark them. It may come down to how they play the A’s, period. Or it may come down to Cano and Seager and Zunino and how they play from here on out.

    • art thiel

      This is a thrown-together team without the continuity of the 95 Mariners. But they do listen to Cruz, who can be more valuable down the stretch that merely his boomstick.

  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    Quick question Art, is there any truth to the M’s releasing/firing or whatever you may call it. 10 scouts, 5 from the bigs and 5 from the minors? Also Verlander getting “Lit” up by the M’s. Who’da thunk it?

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    You called it Art , very nice ..

    Once , long ago , the Mariners had a relief pitcher named Ayala. My buddy used to call him ‘The Weeble’ . “The Weeble wobbles but he doesn’t fall down” ( he fell down hard regularly – as I’m sure you recall ) .

    The Mariners don’t have a whole lotta wobble left . They better start playing some ball again , pronto .

  • Ken S.

    It’s sad to watch how quickly Felix’s pitching prowess has dipped. Some of the blame can be attributed to Felix himself. A 92mph fastball is almost enough, almost. His 96-98mph days are well past him. Why Felix didn’t see this coming and adjust (a la Jamie Moyer) is baffling to me. Did the M’s pitching coaches try to get Felix to adjust and overcome? I’m thinking they did. Which just heaps more of his failures directly on his own shoulders. So he has nothing to complain about when he gets sent to the bull pen. He’ll get trotted out for an inning or 3 whenever the danger of losing the game means giving up 4-5 runs, or when it’s apparent that the M’s aren’t going to win a 1-10 game with 1-2 innings left. And he’ll wander over and collect the next paycheck with no apparent guilt at such a large paycheck for so little effort, for games he pitched in with little effort, and at time, even less results. It’s all about effort, and I suspect that everything came to Felix with little effort. He was a gifted pitcher at a young age, and hard work and effort never entered the equation because it wasn’t needed. Without effort Felix is done for. The End of his career is staring right at him and he has only himself to blame. He could prolong his pitching career, but that would take effort, something foreign to Felix, I suspect.

  • 1coolguy

    Is there an issue with Felix that isn’t getting reported? Is he super lazy? Does he work out at all? Does he drink? Is he not too bright? The guy mastered 4 or 5 pitches at a very young age, so even though he had a hot fastball to set the others up, he was always a pitcher, not a thrower. So I cannot believe his game goes away without the set-up fastball he used to have. Does he just not want to adjust his game to take advantage of his pitches that he has mastered? That doesn’t seem to hold much water, but then, given his bleak performances this season, what does Art? You have the scoop on everything sports in Seattle, so let us know what’s really going on.