SEATTLE — Felix Hernandez is likely entering the most important offseason of his career.
Hernandez is confident that “King Felix” can return in Seattle. But it’s going to require changes and work in the offseason.
The Mariners know it, and from the sounds of it, so does Hernandez.
“We certainly need him at the top of the rotation. We need him in the rotation, preferably at the top, because he has history of doing that,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “But he’s kind of at that point of the career where he’s going to need to make a few adjustments to get the results that he wants.”
Hernandez pitched three innings on Sunday, giving up all three runs as the Oakland Athletics closed out the year with a 3-2 win over the Mariners.
The short stint from Hernandez (11-8) was a combination of how he looked on the mound and the emotional toll from Saturday’s loss that eliminated Seattle from playoff contention.
The Mariners appeared drained after seeing their postseason hopes dashed in that extra-innings loss to the A’s. Hernandez (11-8) was lifted after the third inning and Guillermo Heredia’s two-run double in the fifth amounted to all of Seattle’s offense and the only real threat against Oakland starter Sean Manaea.
Hernandez said he nearly left Saturday night’s loss early to get prepared for Sunday’s finale but couldn’t pull himself away from Seattle’s comeback effort that fell short. He was the last one to leave the dugout after watching Seattle’s postseason hopes crumble for another year.
He wasn’t the only one feeling the emotional letdown.
“Last night and the run that we’ve been on took a lot out of everybody physically and emotionally,” Servais said.
Hernandez closed out of the most inconsistent season of his career with a brief appearance. He was solid early in the season, but a strained calf muscle that landed him on the disabled list for nearly two months derailed finding a groove. He also fought mechanical issues and finished with a 3.82 ERA, his highest since 2007 when he was 21 and in his second full season.
Hernandez lost his final three decisions of the season.
“I was disappointed for sure. I’m the guy that always likes to throw 200 innings and pitch the most games that I can and get the most strikeouts that I can,” Hernandez said. “It happens. I just have to forget about this and get ready for next year.”
Hernandez said he intends on playing in the World Baseball Classic for Venezuela and may pick up a game or two of winter ball to help get ready for the year.
“I’m going to go out there and show everybody that don’t believe in me that I’m going to be King Felix,” Hernandez said.
Stephen Vogt hit his 14th home run in the first inning on the only pitch that he saw from Hernandez, driving it just beyond the left-field wall. Vogt was lifted for a pinch-hitter in his next at-bat. Marcus Semien and Eric Pinder added RBI singles as Oakland made the three early runs stand up.
The Mariners were in contention for the second wild card in the American League thanks to a 16-6 stretch. But hopes of playoff baseball returning to the Pacific Northwest for the first time in 15 years ended when Seattle lost 9-8 in 10 innings on Saturday.
It was the second time in three years the Mariners went into the final weekend with a shot at the postseason only to fall just short.
Seattle made a 10-game improvement from 2015 in Scott Servais’ first year as a manager at any level of baseball. Seattle was buoyed by huge years from Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, who combined to hit 112 home runs and drive in 307 runs in the middle of the order.
Manaea (7-9) threw seven innings, allowing five hits and striking out five. Since coming off the disabled list in mid-September, Manaea allowed three runs in 24 innings, striking out 20 and allowing 15 hits.
Oakland finished at 69-93, a one-game improvement over a year ago.
Seattle opens the 2017 season on April 3 at Houston.