By Clay Fowler
Killeen Daily Herald
ROUND ROCK Luke Scott would know.
And he says Felix Hernandez doesn't belong in minor league baseball.
The Round Rock Express right fielder was with the parent club Houston Astros as recently as six days ago, and in the major league's long enough to recognize that Tacoma's starting pitcher on Thursday night wasn't Triple-A material.
A 3-0 Tacoma victory over the Express at Dell Diamond was all the evidence Scott needed to support his case.
"That's No. 1 big-league starter material," said Scott of Hernandez. "He doesn't belong here. He's a tremendous talent with three-plus pitches and he kept us off balance all night."
On display during the 19-year-old Venezuelan's seven scoreless innings was a 97-mph fastball, with a complementary change-up, a slider in the mid-80s and a devastating curve ball. Hernandez (5-2) threw 55 of his 87 pitches for strikes, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out eight.
"You ever run into a buzz saw?" said Express manager Jackie Moore. "That's what happened to us tonight. He took all the fun out of hitting."
Chris Fussell (0-2) gave Hernandez more than he needed to pick up his fifth win of the season, the Express starter allowing two runs in the first. Shin-Soo Choo jogged home on Ryan Christianson's bases-loaded single in the opening frame. A wild pitch to the next batter allowed Aaron Rifkin to scamper home and give Tacoma a 2-0 lead six batters into the contest.
Fussell's only other allowance after the turbulent start was a run on Jamal Strong's sacrifice fly in the fourth inning, driving in Mike Morse, who reached on a one-out walk.
"Fussell settled in and gave us some innings," said Moore. "He gave us what we wanted."
Round Rock (19-16) maintained their hold on first place in the Pacific Coast League's American Southern division while the Rainiers (17-16) remained in third place in the Pacific North.
The Express looked like it would provide Fussell some run support when first baseman Carlos Rivera turned on a Hernandez fastball in the second inning, one-hopping a double off the right field wall. But a subsequent ground out and strikeout ended Round Rock's largest threat of the night.
Hernandez sports a 2.75 earned run average and has allowed a total of three earned runs in his two losses. He is the No. 1 rated minor league prospect by Baseball America, begging the question, why isn't he on the Seattle Mariners roster?
"We asked ourselves that same question," said Moore. "He's young, but he didn't show us he's a 19-year-old tonight."
Contact Clay Fowler at email@example.com