By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Even though Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price once was pitching coach for the Seattle Mariners, it wasn’t like old times this weekend with the Mariners in town.
Price said hello and talked to a few people, mostly front office types, but there is only one player on the roster who was there when Price wore the ’S’ on his cap.
But what a player that is. Price was pitching coach for Felix Hernandez and was his coach when Hernandez came to the majors as a 19-year-old prodigy.
IN CASE YOU’VE been in a baseball vortex for the last decade, Hernandez won the Cy Young in 2010, owns a perfect game, is a six-time All-Star and was 19-and-5 in 2009.
In Seattle, well just about anywhere in baseball circles, he is merely known as ‘King Felix.’
And the Reds get to face him Saturday afternoon in the twilight. Hernandez is tough enough to hit when the lighting is perfect but in the twilight he is like facing a man standing in a fog throwing chick peas.
ASKED HOW HERNANDEZ was as a 19-year-old, Price smiled and said, “Well, we grade out the different pitches and give them numbers, like it’s a 40 or a 50 or a 60. He had three 80 pitches and you can’t get any higher than that.
“He had a fastball that was 97 to 99 miles an hour,” Price added. “And he could throw eight innings without throwing a fastball below 97. He could sink it at 97. An he threw a traditional curveball that was also rated at 80. He had an 80 change-up. And he was 19.”
Price even remembers Hernandez’s debut, a battle with former Seattle superstar Randy Johnson, then pitching for the New York Yankees.
“He gave up two solo home runs in eight innings and even at 19 he didn’t back down to anybody,” Price added. “He was a dominant force who threw strikes with three pitches that were as good as I’d ever seen at the big league level, right from the first game he threw for us.”
NOW, 11 YEARS later, Hernandez is still winning, still dominating, but doing it differently and in some ways, Price says, even better.
“I haven’t seen him as much lately, but I watch him as much as I can,” said Price. “His velocity has come down a bit, but even the change-up, as good as it was, has improved — a split-fingered swing-and-a-miss pitch. He knows how to cut the ball now and added a slider and continued to evolve as a pitcher.”
ASKED IF ALL HIS coaching is what put the spiffy polish on Hernandez and made him The Compleat Pitcher, Price smiled and said, “I’m not going to say it, but you can.”
As for playing the Mariners, Price said, “I have a few friends over there. But there isn’t much left there from when I was there. There really isn’t the same connection. But I pull for them, hope the Mariners get back on top of their division, but not for these three days.”