Aftermath of perfection not always perfect
A mixed bag of results for pitchers after they throw a no-hitter or a perfect game
With Felix Hernandez's perfect game nearly a week old, it's almost time to find out what King Felix has in store for an encore.
All eyes figure to be on Hernandez when he takes the mound Tuesday night at Safeco Field in Seattle for the first time since tossing the 23rd perfect game in Major League history against Tampa Bay on Wednesday. The Mariners right-hander will look to avoid the often-discussed pitfalls that have plagued other pitchers in the aftermath of no-hitters.
Just how real are those post-no-hitter struggles, though?
This year alone, four pitchers -- Philip Humber, Jered Weaver, Johan Santana and Matt Cain -- have each experienced firsthand the euphoria of throwing a no-hitter. Of that small sample size, half -- Weaver and Cain -- won their next start and have continued their mastery on the mound to the tune of a 15-6 combined record since their respective gems. Humber and Santana, however, haven't been as fortunate.
Santana has dealt with both injury and command problems since his June 2 no-hitter, the first in Mets history, stumbling to a 3-7 mark with an 8.26 ERA. Humber, meanwhile, has gone 4-5 with a 6.66 ERA since his perfect outing on April 21, sliding his way into a bullpen role with the White Sox.
NO-HITTER AFTERMATH: Felix Hernandez's perfect game last Wednesday marked the 21st regular-season no-hitter thrown since the start of the 2007 season. Here's a look at how each pitcher fared before and after throwing his no-hitter.
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"There's a lot of stuff that comes with it that you don't normally experience as a ballplayer," Humber said. "The attention, the interviews ... nobody can really tell you how to deal with it. The main thing is not to put too much pressure on yourself. Just try to enjoy everything that comes along with it."
Good or bad, there was a common theme among the four hurlers' next start -- each one ended before the seventh inning. Considering the number of media requests, phone calls and the overall attention that comes with making history, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that they all ran out of gas within the first six innings.
Cain, Humber and Santana each lasted five innings in his next trip to the mound, with only Humber throwing more than 100 pitches (115). The five innings were a season-low for Cain. As for Weaver, he lasted one inning longer than the other three, but was still finished after 89 pitches.
"Even though his pitch count wasn't high, he just didn't seem like he was in sync for most of the night," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Weaver, who lasted just 77 pitches over 3 1/3 innings in his second start after the no-no. "I think that just shows what a terrific pitcher he is, that he can get through six innings with really not the stuff you would expect."
Going beyond this season, however, the numbers suggest Hernandez's hot streak might not fall by the wayside in the wake of last week's perfect game. Since the start of the 2007 season, pitchers following up no-hit gems actually sport a winning record of 10-8 their next time out.
Looking at the bigger picture, no-hit pitchers in that same time span have had a combined winning percentage of .641 (98-55) in the season of their respective no-hitters. That percentage dips a bit to .594 (142-97) for the remainder of the season following each historic achievement.
The best won-loss record after throwing a no-hitter was set last year, when Detroit's Justin Verlander went 21-2 with a 2.18 ERA after his May 7 no-no en route to winning both the American League Cy Young and MVP awards. Since 2007, 10 no-hit pitchers went on to put up winning records for the remainder of the season, while six stumbled to a losing mark.
The worst won-loss percentage in that time frame came in 2009, when then-White Sox hurler Mark Buehrle needed nine starts after his no-hitter to pick up his next victory. He went 2-7 post-no-hitter after starting the season 11-3.
But for some pitchers, like Weaver's teammate Ervin Santana last year, throwing a no-hitter can spark a dominant run. After no-hitting the Indians on July 27, Santana rattled off three straight victories in which he allowed just one run each time out. Including the no-hitter, three of Santana's four complete games in 2011 came during that four-game stretch.
Hernandez will simply look to keep stifling opposing hitters when he faces Cleveland on Tuesday, as the righty has gone 7-0 with four shutouts in his past 11 starts. Not to mention, that run includes a two-hitter against the Yankees and a three-hitter against the Rangers prior to the perfect performance against the Rays.
"I'll keep trying to do what I've done my last 10 starts, just doing my job and trying to help my team win," Hernandez said when asked how he would approach Tuesday's game. "That's what's next."
The perfect-game hoopla will slowly dwindle with each start, but it'll likely be near its peak for Hernandez's upcoming outing. Nearly four months removed from his own perfect game, Humber promises the frenzy will go away with time, which should come as a relief for the 26-year-old Hernandez, who figures to still have a long career ahead of him.
"There's definitely a lot of attention in your next start," said Humber, who walked his first batter en route to allowing nine runs, including three homers, in his first start after his no-hitter. "But once you get back on the mound and pitch ... now it's become something that doesn't even cross my mind unless someone brings it up."
Counting only perfect games, starting with Charlie Robertson's in 1922, the fewest hits allowed in an encore performance was four by Randy Johnson in 2004 (data includes only the 16 pitchers who made another regular-season start in the same year as the perfect game). Overall, the average line in those 16 starts is respectable: 6 1/3 innings, seven hits, 3.7 earned runs, five strikeouts and two walks.
While Hernandez is likely to fall short in a bid for back-to-back no-hitters, as Johnny Vander Meer did for the Reds in 1938, he doesn't exactly anticipate any type of significant drop-off amid all the attention.
"No, no, no. No way," Hernandez said on MLB Network immediately following his perfect game, when asked if he was worried about a post-perfection slump. "Not gonna happen. Don't worry."