By John Kruk, ESPN Insider

Editor's note: Felix Hernandez will pitch on Thursday against the Indians in Cleveland (7:05 p.m. ET). He is 4-5 with a 2.62 ERA in 13 career starts, and Thursday will be his first start since he turned 20 on April 8. In 1984, Dwight Gooden was 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA as a 19-year-old rookie. He didn't turn 20 until after that season.

Felix Hernandez Felix Hernandez has more of an arsenal than Dwight Gooden did at such a young age. Doc threw harder, but he was basically a two-pitch pitcher -- fastball and curveball. Felix has a sinker, two-seam fastball and a sharp slider. Hernandez has incredible poise and focus, like Gooden had when he was young. If you took Doc and Felix when they both were 20 years old and tried to decide who had the brightest future, I would've said Felix is going to have the better career because he has more pitches to work with.

Gooden had great mechanics and pitched great with his legs, and Felix does the same thing. I'm not sure he's going to strike out as many batters as Doc did, so he's not going to throw as many pitches. Early in my career, I never saw a pitching coach with a clicker counting off every pitch that was thrown. That just didn't happen, and Doc likely was throwing 140-150 pitches per game early in his career.

The way pitchers are monitored now, it's to the point of almost babying them too much. Felix will be taken care of better today than Doc was when he pitched. The bottom line when Gooden pitched was win now and we'll worry about next year when it comes. Now, teams want to protect their future, and Felix Hernandez is the Mariners' future.

Dwight Gooden What Gooden did at such a young age -- and doing it in New York -- might be why he didn't have as long a career as I think Felix will. Playing in Seattle, Hernandez won't have the pressure Doc had in New York. You don't want to blame it on being in New York, but some of Doc's problems and the shortness of his career are a result, I think, of his playing in New York.

That's going to help Hernandez -- the fact that he's pretty much running under the radar. Think about Gooden at 20 years old winning 20 games (24-4 in 1985 at age 20) and playing in New York City. I don't think anyone can imagine the scrutiny he must have been under. I'm sure at that age he enjoyed it, but I have to think after a while that had to wear on him. In Seattle, Felix can go along and just do his thing, and that will help him the first four or five years. If he has a bad start, people will say it's because he's 20 years old. If Doc had a bad game, I'm sure it made headlines all the time in New York.

Felix has all the advantages that Doc didn't at such a young age.


By Jayson Stark, ESPN.com | Stark Archive

If Chris Shelton has as many homers as the Red Sox, and Oscar Villarreal has as many wins as the White Sox, and J.J. Putz has as many saves as Mariano Rivera, you know what that means.

It sure isn't last year anymore.

So let's all wish ourselves a Happy New Year with a déja new edition of the Useless Information Department.

• There wasn't a single time last year that the Tigers got a win from their starting pitchers five games in a row. So naturally, all five Tigers starters won a game in the first five games of this season.

• The Tigers hadn't hit 15 home runs in any three-game span in their entire history -- all 105 seasons worth. So how many did they hit in the first three games of this season? That would be (what else?) 15.

• Last year, Dmitri Young hit three home runs on Opening Day. This year, he and Placido Polanco were the only Tigers starters who didn't make a trot in those first three games.

Complete Stark column


By John Shea, Special to ESPN.com | Shea Archive

The season opened with the Giants and Dodgers as the popular picks to win the National League West, and the first week ended with the Rockies showing signs they might finally bust out of their familiar dwelling: the cellar.

What about the defending champs?

Padres The Padres were so quickly swept by the Cardinals [in the '05 playoffs], it hardly seemed they were involved. But before their 2006 season opener, they hoisted their championship flag and celebrated their first division crown in eight years. It was their right, despite a record that would have equated to fifth place in the NL East or 18 games back in the NL Central.

A season later, they say they're a better team, though the six-month schedule will be the judge of that. No concrete conclusions should be drawn from the first week, which pleases the Padres -- they lost four of five games and were swept at home by the Rockies, who clobbered San Diego pitching over three games for 32 runs and 48 hits.

Nevertheless, the Padres think they could be young enough and healthy enough to win consecutive division titles for the first time in their history. In this division, with the Giants and Dodgers older and perhaps more susceptible to injuries, who can disagree?

Complete Shea story


Rainy San Francisco AP Photo/Eric RisbergFans leave San Francisco's AT&T Park after the Giants' game against the Astros was rained out for a second consecutive day.


Pedro and the Mets stifle the Nationals.


Click hereInsider to see all the numbers surrounding Greg Maddux's 320th career win.


• Cubs RHP Mark Prior (strained shoulder muscle) threw about 30 pitches from the bullpen mound at Wrigley Field. He will throw again Friday in Arizona.

Ichiro Suzuki • Mariners RF Ichiro Suzuki has the second-highest career batting average against Cleveland among active players (.350). Only Nomar Garciaparra's .369 is better. Ichiro's average is also fifth-best all time against the Indians, trailing Oddibe McDowell (.405), Garciaparra (.369), Rod Carew (.363) and Leon Wagner (.350).

• Devil Rays 3B Aubrey Huff was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained left knee. He might miss four to six weeks.

• Braves RF Jeff Francoeur went hitless in his first three at-bats, including two strikeouts, to drop his average to .056 (2-for-36). He raised it to .081 with a single to right field in the eighth inning.