Notes: Gibbons anxious to see Felix
Manager not ready for grand scale comparisons, yet
TORONTO -- Which buzz makes more noise? The sound of people talking about Seattle's Felix Hernandez or the audible evidence of his 97 mph fastball?
The local fans won't have an informed opinion until Wednesday, but several reporters had questions on Monday about the 19-year-old's potential. Toronto manager John Gibbons has a fitting reference point because he caught Dwight Gooden two decades ago, and he said he's intrigued to see if Hernandez can live up to all the hype.
"I don't know about that comparison yet, but he's pretty good if he is," said Gibbons, showing restraint. "Very few guys come along like that and take the game by storm right out of the gate. Doc never really struggled -- until it happened down the road."
Despite the checkered downslope of his career, Gooden is the best modern example of success at an early age. In 1984, he won the Rookie of the Year Award and finished second in the National League's Cy Young balloting -- all at the age of 19. The next year, he won the Cy Young and led the league in wins (24), ERA (1.53) and strikeouts (288).
Hernandez hasn't done anything on that grand scale, but every one of his starts is awashed in superlatives. The right-hander is 3-4 with a 2.95 ERA in his first nine outings in the big leagues, but it's more about how he's earned those numbers. Hernandez uses a powerful fastball and a big-breaking curveball to keep hitters off balance -- and it's worked everywhere he's been.
Earlier this season, Hernandez went 9-4 with a 2.25 ERA for Triple-A Tacoma -- Seattle's top affiliate. If you add his big-league numbers to the equation, he's struck out 159 batters and allowed just 108 hits in 149 innings of work. The Mariners have had a difficult season, but Hernandez has brought some hope to the second half.
"The name of the game is getting ahead of you. Then they can do what they want," said Gibbons, speaking about power pitchers. "Those kind of guys, when they're on, you know it's going to be a tough night. You've got to hope they make some mistakes. And when they do, you've got to take advantage of them."
That's where the problem comes in. For a young pitcher, Hernandez has shown a stunning amount of poise. He's worked seven innings or more in seven of his first nine starts, and he's only allowed more than three earned runs on two occasions. Hernandez may or may not match Gooden's early success, but he's already got the Young Ace's starter kit.
Another route: Left-handed pitchers come in another popular variety, and Gibbons found himself talking about that model, too. Jamie Moyer, who started for Seattle on Monday night, is the polar opposite of his young teammate. The 42-year-old rarely breaks 90 mph on his fastball, but he's still found a way to carve out a 17-year career.
"Moyer, he just mastered this game," said Gibbons, who then proceeded to name a bunch of similar southpaws. "Look at [Tom] Glavine, John Tudor, Bobby Ojeda, Jimmy Key. They're all different in a way, but they just know how to pitch. A lot of times, your big winners in the game aren't your hard throwers. He's a perfect example of that."
Last laps: The last two weeks of the season have arrived, but Gibbons said he already knows everything he has to know about his team. He also said that he expected the Jays to finish strong, even if they're out of playoff contention.
"They've been showing up every night to play -- all year long. I haven't seen us tank it yet. And I don't expect them to," he said. "This is big-league baseball. There's always something to play for. You play 162 games -- you play them all and you play to win. The last few weeks of a season can go a long way toward individual stats. And that's important in this game."
Quotable: "If he played that more often, we might be undefeated this year." -- Gibbons, talking about the country music preferred by Scott Downs, Monday's starting pitcher.
Coming up: The Blue Jays and Mariners will meet against Tuesday, with Toronto's Josh Towers matched up against Seattle's Jeff Harris. Towers has thrown 11 straight quality starts, the best streak this season of any Jay.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.