SEATTLE — This was the moment Felix Hernandez showed his immaturity, displaying the pompous arrogance only a 20-year-old with a golden arm can possess.

Hernandez decided he was done pitching. No more trying to paint corners or delicately approaching tricky at-bats by mixing offspeed pitches with a blazing fastball. Nope, the kid who's hit 100 mph this season, believed throwing harder must be the answer.

The New York Yankees differed, pounding Hernandez this August in one of the worst games of his career. The outing offered the Seattle Mariners' young righty the starkest lesson of his first full season: No matter how hard you throw, you can't strike everyone out.

"I'd been talking to (pitching coach Rafael Chaves) about it a lot in the past about how I don't need to throw harder. I need to locate my pitches, and I especially need to throw first pitch strikes," Hernandez said.

"That was a moment where I really realized I needed to listen to that."

In his next start, Hernandez took his coaches' advice, worked quickly and earned his first career shutout. He threw 70 of 95 pitches for strikes, overpowering the Los Angeles Angels despite striking out just four.

"It's nothing different than what he's heard from day one," Chaves said. "Finally he decided to go out there and give it a legit shot."

Hernandez, 11-13 with a 4.70 ERA in 27 starts, has been overshadowed by great class of rookie American League pitchers including Justin Verlander in Detroit, Francisco Liriano in Minnesota and Jered Weaver with the Angels.

But the young right-hander, who started against Texas on Saturday, has developed a keen feel for what Chaves and manager Mike Hargrove want.

The two coaches have been working with Hernandez on the image he portrays on the mound, concerned he seemed too insecure. They pushed Hernandez to work faster and understand it's OK for the batter to hit the ball.

That concept — pitching to contact as Hargrove described it — can be difficult for pitchers of any age, especially those with gaudy strikeout numbers in the minor leagues and the ability to hit triple digits on the radar gun.

"I think that any time any of us jet into a jam we want to do it stronger, harder, longer, and sometimes that's not the best way to do it," Hargrove said. "Some people never grasp that concept."

Hernandez was able to execute it in the Angels shutout, but his next start proved more difficult. He threw 7 2/3 strong innings against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays but allowed seven runs on a trio of homers.

"It is a fine line for a pitcher to pitch to contact but still make pitches," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "That just takes experience, that takes growth."

It's been a season of adjustment for Hernandez, crowned "King Felix" while recording 77 strikeouts in 84 1/3 innings and 2.67 ERA at Triple-A Tacoma last season. Signed by Seattle on July 4, 2002, Hernandez made his first start this season on April 7, a day away from turning 20.

Even before the season began, the Mariners warned they would keep Hernandez under 200 innings. Now, in the season's final weeks, Hargrove said Hernandez will skip his turn once or twice.

That's fine with the native of Venezuela, who knows fans are counting on him to develop into the dominating starter absent from the Mariners in recent seasons.

"I've learned a lot already this year," Hernandez said. "Now I know all the other opponents know me, and I just have to go out and work hard every start."


Sophomore stats

Seattle's Felix Hernandez has endured an up-and-down second season after going 4-4 with a 2.67 ERA in 84.1 innings pitched during his rookie season:

Innings: 168.1

ERA: 4.70

Record: 11-13

Strikeouts: 151

Walks: 57

Stats through Friday