Hernandez, Romero reaching their potential

Updated: July 26, 2009

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Felix Hernandez is 11-3 with 137 strikeouts in 139 2/3 innings this season for Seattle.

Any true baseball fan has to love Monday's matchup between Seattle ace Felix Hernandez and Toronto rookie sensation Ricky Romero.

Felix Hernandez

Starting Pitcher
Seattle Mariners


2009 Season Stats
20 11 3 38 137 2.45

Romero comes into the start 8-4 with a 3.44 ERA, and he may soon be relied upon as Toronto's ace if the Jays do indeed trade Roy Halladay. On the other side, Hernandez (11-3, 2.45 ERA) has arguably been the most dominant pitcher in the American League this season. It took him five years to meet the expectations thrust upon him by baseball scouts who predicted greatness.

Hernandez is not just a dominant ace; he's an ace with three devastating pitches. These credentials are rare in a pitcher. That's why there was so much expectation when he came up as a 19-year old. Scouts thought he would be the next Dwight Gooden, a young guy with an overpowering fastball. But it takes a little while to hone one's skills at the big league level. Word spreads around the league when you know a guy is that good. Hitters study his quirks, and learn to take advantage of them. They expect him to throw hard. He's a tall pitcher who loves to dominate the zone with low, moving fastballs. If I'm up at the plate, I'll be looking for a pitch to hit up in the zone. I wouldn't commit to a knee-high fastball. If you commit to that pitch, chances are you'll end up getting fooled with a slider.

That's how well King Felix has adjusted in this league. He gives hitters too many things to think about up at the plate. You can't go up there hacking at his pitches, or else he'll blow you away with ease.

Ricky Romero

Starting Pitcher
Toronto Blue Jays


2009 Season Stats
15 8 4 40 79 3.44

Romero is a top candidate for this year's AL Rookie of the Year, but his road to get there was a bumpy one. Romero was selected sixth overall by the Blue Jays in 2005, but had struggled a bit before hitting the majors. He dealt with shoulder problems in his first years as a minor leaguer and then developed control problems as he progressed through the farm system. He walked 55 batters in Double-A New Hampshire last season, but has been able to settle in nicely this year since getting the call to the majors. From what he's shown, he looks to be headed toward a nice career. But you can't fast forward with a talented arm.

Romero isn't a dominating pitcher like Hernandez. He doesn't have nasty stuff, but he has the ability to consistently throw strikes. The league is still scuffling to figure him out. The best way to do so is to gather plate appearances against him. After about 20 at-bats, they should have a good feel for how he works. The next 20 at-bats will be how the pitcher discovers new ways to approach each hitter. It's all a learning process that Romero will become accustomed to with more experience.

We're witnessing a matchup between Cy Young and Rookie of the Year candidates. Yes, this is the kind of matchup you just have to see.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: July 23 | July 22 | July 21 | July 20 | July 19


Touch 'Em AllThis season, "Baseball Tonight" will be tracking Web Gems. We'll publish a leaderboard on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page each Monday. In addition to listing the leaders in appearances (both players and teams) on "Baseball Tonight," we'll offer up the leaders in Web Gem points.

Web Gem points will be calculated by awarding five points for the night's top defensive play, four points for second, three for third, two for fourth and one for fifth. Scoring will be based on the Web Gems from the last "Baseball Tonight" show to air on a given night.

Web Gem points leaderboard
Jack Wilson 33
Carlos Gomez 27
Brandon Inge 26
Orlando Hudson 21
Three tied 20

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (players)
Brandon Inge Detroit Third base 9
Jack Wilson Pittsburgh Shortstop 8
David Wright New York Mets Third base 8
Carlos Gomez Minnesota Center field 7
Ryan Zimmerman Washington Third base 7

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (teams)
Philadelphia 23
Washington 22
Cincinnati 22
Pittsburgh 22
New York Mets 20


Yankees at Rays, 7 p.m. ET

The Rays could make either serious headway in their pursuit of the Yankees or dig themselves a nearly insurmountable hole in the AL East. Tampa Bay trails New York by 6½ games in the division. A.J. Burnett has won his past four decisions; James Shields hasn't been involved in a decision since July 1, a string of four consecutive starts.

Dodgers at Cardinals, 7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Cardinals limp in, having sacrificed first place in the NL Central to the Cubs by losing five of seven. But St. Louis sends its ace out against the Dodgers. Chris Carpenter went 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA in July. Albert Pujols is hitting .357 in his career against Randy Wolf, but has never taken the lefty deep.

Astros at Cubs, 8:05 p.m. ET

Carlos Zambrano has kept his ERA below 4.00 since the start of June, but now he is adding wins, capturing three in a row. Wandy Rodriguez has won his past four starts and five consecutive decisions.

For the rest of Monday's schedule, click here.



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10 p.m. ET
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Eduardo Perez, Chris Singleton, Peter Gammons
12 a.m. ET
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Eduardo Perez, Chris Singleton, Peter Gammons



Insider Who went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page. For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
Raul Ibanez, PHI26HawksworthBot 7: 1-0, 0 Outs. 1 on.
Mark Reynolds, ARI26VasquezBot 3: 0-1, 2 Outs. 1 on.
Justin Morneau, MIN26LouxTop 7: 1-0, 0 Outs. None on.
Ryan Howard, PHI25WellemeyerBot 5: 2-1, 1 Outs. 1 on.
Justin Morneau, MIN25SantanaTop 1: 2-0, 1 Outs. 1 on.
Chase Utley, PHI22WellemeyerBot 3: 3-2, 1 Outs. 1 on.
Kendry Morales, LAA18SwarzakBot 4: 2-2, 1 Outs. None on.
Mark DeRosa, STL17BlantonTop 5: 0-0, 1 Outs. None on.
Dan Uggla, FLA17SchmidtTop 4: 0-1, 0 Outs. None on.
Joey Votto, CIN15HardenTop 1: 1-2, 2 Outs. None on.
The complete list of Sunday's homers


Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at the upcoming schedule for the Rays. Tampa Bay is about to embark on an important stretch if it wants to stay in the AL East chase. And the left side of the Rays' infield might make the ultimate difference.

Tampa Bays Rays
Upcoming homestand
2009 W-L Evan Longoria (Games-RBIs) Jason Bartlett (BA)
Yankees 4-4 7-6 .235
Royals 6-0 4-4 .300
Red Sox 6-4 10-21 .406



Justin Morneau• The Angels came in the hottest team in baseball. Justin Morneau put a stop to that, even if only for a day. Morneau hit a pair of homers and drove home three in the Twins' 10-1 win. He wasn't the only one on the team with a big day: Denard Span drove home four runs and Nick Punto drove in three.
Jason Vargas• Plenty of rough pitching performances Sunday. The Angels gave up 10, as did the Brewers. The Pirates and Cardinals surrendered nine. The Mariners suffered the most, coughing up 12 against the Indians. Jason Vargas started the mess, giving up seven hits and six runs in four innings.


Ichiro Ichiro Suzuki is having another great season in Seattle, hitting .359, well above the .295 he was hitting at this time last season.

Ichiro is so tough to face because he can hit in every situation, especially with two strikes. He is the best two-strike hitter in baseball, hitting .312 with a two-strike count. There aren't 20 hitters who have an overall batting average better than Ichiro's with two strikes. Even more astounding is the fact that Ichiro is hitting .321 with two strikes when he swings at a pitch outside of the strike zone.

With two strikes on Ichiro, pitchers have the best chance to keep him off the base paths by using their changeup. However, so far this season pitchers have not been willing to use their changeup against Ichiro with two strikes, throwing it to him less than 10 percent of the time, and he has made them pay.

Ichiro with two strikes
Changeup All other pitches
BA .182 .331
Miss pct. 15.2 30.9
BA on pitches out of the zone .000 .347
Pct. of pitches seen 9.6 90.4

Ichiro will face Toronto's Ricky Romero on Monday. Romero has held hitters to a .124 average against his changeup in 2009. He has them hitting .102 on two-strike changeups. Romero has thrown a changeup 24.6 percent of the time with a two-strike count, something he should continue against Ichiro.

-- ESPN Stats & Information


Adam Madison examines the 14 games on Monday's slate.

Fantasy Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Monday. Daily Notes