The average age of the four starting pitchers in the first two games of the current series in Seattle is 23 3/4. It’s not often that you see a stat like that when the Yankees are involved. Don’t worry. Randy Johnson will compensate tomorrow. Today, however, we Yankee fans can continue to freak out about Chien-Ming Wang’s climbing innings total.
For those who have missed my previous kvetching, Wang set a career high with 157 innings pitched last year between the minors, majors and postseason. Entering tonight’s game, he’s thrown 172 1/3 innings and hasn’t been sharp in any of his last three starts. His combined line in those outings is: 16 1/3 IP, 27 H, 12 R, 3 HR, 8 BB, 6 K, 2.14 WHIP, 6.61 ERA. Most alarming of all, despite opening the Boston series with a victory in his last start, he recorded just six of his 18 outs in that game via groundballs, the only time in his major league career (43 starts, two relief appearances) that he has recorded fewer groundouts than flyouts.
Opposing Wang will be deflowered phenom Felix Hernandez. The Yankees got a good look at Hernandez last year when he locked horns in a stirring pitchers duel with his predecessor Randy Johnson. Hernandez lost that battle 2-0 on solo home runs by Robinson Cano and Gary Sheffield, but made a strong showing in 12 starts as a 19-year-old rookie for the M’s, posting a 1.00 WHIP and a 2.67 ERA while striking out 8.22 per nine innings. This year, King Felix has actually increased his strike-out rate, but has seen more dramatic increases in his walk, hit and homer rates, the end result of which is a decidedly average 4.50 ERA. Of course, 4.50 is plenty respectable from a 20-year-old with ace potential, but it’s not going to make anyone forget Doc Gooden. Incidentally, Hernandez, who is at 148 innings pitched thus far this year, threw 149 1/3 innings in 2004 and increased his work load to 172 1/3 last year. That’s a normal innings increase for a young pitcher and further evidence that even if Chien-Ming Wang hasn’t hit his innings ceiling yet, he’s dangerously close.