"I know he's probably going to have some added adrenaline," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "But all those things are valuable experiences. We'd like to be able to put him in the World Series, to pitch on the big stage with a big crowd. I think the last couple of starts have already been that in the race for the Cy Young."
Hernandez has enjoyed success all season against some of the best competition the AL can offer.
He is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA against the AL Central Division-leading Tigers; 1-1 with a 2.31 ERA against the AL West Division-leading Angels in four starts; held the NL West-leading Dodgers scoreless for eight innings in his triumphant Interleague Play start; held the Red Sox to three earned runs in an outing that he received a no-decision; and is 3-0 against the Rangers.
But his first start against New York this season could be his biggest challenge yet.
"It's got to be his biggest start of the year," closer David Aardsma said. "This is going to be the biggest stage. They could say, 'Yeah, he did it against the AL Central and the AL West, but now he did it against the Yankees.' When you're trying to compare that to some of the other guys, like [Zack] Greinke and [Justin] Verlander, and the other guys in the running, you can't argue against that."
Here are some other Hernandez highlights heading into Friday night's start:
Ten of his wins have been against teams with at least a .500 record.
Leads all AL starters with 25 quality starts and has the lowest opponents' batting average -- .228.
Ranks second in the AL in ERA (2.52), tied for third in starts (30), tied for fourth in wins (15), fourth in strikeouts (193) and fifth in strikeouts per nine innings pitched (8.38).
Is the only pitcher to rank in the top five in the AL in each of the three pitching "Triple Crown" categories -- wins, ERA and strikeouts.
Recorded a quality start in 20 of his past 21 outings.
Since May 24, is 11-1 with a 1.91 ERA with a 137-45 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .213 opponents' batting average.
Leads the AL with seven starts of at least seven shutout innings.
With seven more strikeouts, and assuming he finishes with an ERA below 3.00, will become just the second pitcher in club history to post a season of 200 innings, 200 strikeouts, 15 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA. Randy Johnson accomplished this in 1995 and '97, winning the Cy Young Award in '95.
The Yankees, zeroing in on their first division title since 2006, will start right-hander A.J. Burnett in the series opener, followed by lefty CC Sabathia on Saturday night and right-hander Joba Chamberlain on Sunday. Seattle counters with right-handers Doug Fister and Ian Snell in the final two games of the series.
As of Thursday night, there were about 18,000 tickets remaining for Friday night's game, but with Felix starting, the walkup should be substantial.
SEA: RHP Felix Hernandez (15-5, 2.52 ERA)
The Mariners ace is in the middle of the Cy Young Award race and is coming off another solid performance -- seven scoreless innings against the Rangers. It was the 16th time in 30 starts this season that he surrendered one or fewer runs. The two-seam fastball has been his bread-and-butter pitch this season. He needs seven strikeouts to reach the 200-strikeout mark for the first time in his career. Felix shows no favoritism -- both left- and right-handed batters are hitting .228 against this season. This will be his first start against the Yankees this season.
NYY: RHP A.J. Burnett (11-9, 4.33 ERA)
Presumably, Burnett will have three more opportunities in the regular season to prove his readiness for the playoffs -- which is good, because right now, he does not appear particularly close. A big inning undermined Burnett yet again last Saturday, when the Orioles scored six times in the second to send him to his fifth loss in six decisions. Since the start of August, Burnett is 1-5 with a 6.14 ERA, three times serving up at least four runs in an inning. He will look to rebound against the Mariners, a team he has not faced since a victory in 2007.
Of the 26 position players used this season, 20 of them have hit home runs. Catcher Adam Moore and second baseman Matt Tuiasosopo started their first big league games of the season on Thursday afternoon against the White Sox. ... All 12 Mariners pitchers who have started games this season have at least one quality start (three or fewer runs in six innings). That is three more than the Red Sox and Blue Jays. ... All of the current starters are 27 years of age or younger and Hernandez is the "baby" at 23 years. ... A reminder that Saturday night's game starts at 7:10 p.m. PT, an hour later than previously announced, and Sunday's game will be aired on 770 AM because of a conflict with the Seahawks. ... With three more saves, Aardsma will move into third place on the Mariners' all-time list for saves in one season. Kaz Sasaki ranks first with 45 saves, in 2001, and J.J. Putz is next with 40, in '07.
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Saturday: Mariners (Doug Fister, 2-2, 3.53) vs. Yankees (CC Sabathia, 17-7, 3.42), 7:10 p.m. PT
Sunday: Mariners (Ian Snell, 6-10, 5.17) vs. Yankees (Joba Chamberlain, 8-5, 4.39), 1:10 p.m. PT