When Hernandez made his debut a month ago, one local paper ran his pitching line in a headline with type so large it wouldn't have been surprising to see a subhead running below it, "Bin Laden Captured." And Hernandez lost that game.
When he won his first game in Seattle with eight scoreless innings against Minnesota, a local columnist wrote, "He's the next Bob Gibson. The next Roger Clemens. Take your pick. The next Pedro Martinez. The next Curt Schilling."
"They did the same thing with Dwight Gooden; they compared him to Bob Gibson," Yankees manager Joe Torre said this week, adding that such comparisons are tough on the younger pitcher. "But it's only natural. When you see someone out there, it's natural to compare them to someone else. And you know that someone has to play after these guys go on and leave the game."
Fans will get a chance to compare the two pitchers up close Wednesday night when Johnson, who turns 42 next week, faces the 19-year-old Hernandez and the Mariners in Seattle.
Mariners fans are used to hearing hype about pitching prospects -- please, don't remind Seattle fans about Ryan Anderson and how good he was supposed to be -- but after five strong-to-outstanding starts by the rookie, they're hopeful that Hernandez follows through on his potential and gives them something to cheer about after two terribly disappointing seasons.
And given recent events, they also hope not all the Gooden comparisons prove accurate. So to speak.
"We all have to remember [Hernandez] is 19 years old," Mariners manager Mike Hargrove said. "But if he continues like this, he has the chance to be very special."
He's been spectacular so far, throwing fastballs in the upper 90s, curveballs in the lower 80s and everything for strikes -- just five walks and 38 strikeouts in 36 innings.
"Unlike a lot of young pitchers, he's able to do a lot of things," Torre said. "He can throw any pitch at any time. That, combined with his velocity, makes him pretty special for someone his age."
The Yankees will provide a nice challenge for Hernandez, who has started against the somewhat lesser Tigers, Royals, Twins and White Sox lineups.
"It's good to see people excited, it really is," Torre said. "I went out this [week] to get a cup of coffee and the people behind the counter were bragging about this kid, Felix, who's wonderful."
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," was published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.
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