Mariners' Felix Hernandez has fun in spring debut, after scary start
Felix Hernandez went sprawling to avoid a line drive hit by the first batter he faced in his first Cactus League start of the spring Monday. Hernandez pitched 2-2/3 innings in the Mariners' 6-3 victory over Oakland.
Seattle Times staff reporter
PHOENIX — This wasn't exactly how Felix Hernandez expected life as a reigning Cy Young winner to begin.
There Hernandez was, on the second pitch of his first live action since being voted the American League's best pitcher in 2010, sprawled on the ground, forced to hit the deck.
"I was like, 'Wow, first game, man? You've got to do that?' " Hernandez said he told Oakland leadoff hitter David DeJesus, who singled hard up the middle. "It was scary."
But Hernandez survived to tell the tale with a smile, and while there were a few other slight wobbles throughout his 2-2/3 innings, he pronounced his first game of 2011 a success.
"It was fun," he said. "It's been a while since I've pitched in a big-league game and I felt pretty good, throwing a lot of strikes, down in the zone. Breaking ball was good too, feel pretty good now."
He gave up five hits and a run, struck out three, issued one walk and got the win in a 6-3 Mariners victory, and hit his pitch count (throwing 53) before going a full three innings.
But of the hits, two were bloops. In all, four were singles and one a double down the left-field line.
The run scored when Kevin Kouzmanoff singled sharply up the middle — one of several hits in that direction — to score Conor Jackson with one out in the third.
"Had a slider stay up on a 2-2 count," Hernandez said. "That's OK."
Otherwise, he had few complaints.
"Just throw strikes," he said of his plan for the day. "That's all I need to do, throw strikes, see if my sinker was working, and it was working. And I was still alive after the line drive. That's what I was looking for."
Hernandez, remembering a few close calls in recent years, said, "I know how to get out of the way."
Said Mariners manager Eric Wedge of the DeJesus hit: "Well, just glad it didn't clip him, that's for sure. He has been doing everything he needed to do throughout the course of the camp. It was time to get him out there ... we got him up to where he needed to be, pitch-count wise. He threw the ball well."
The plan now is to gradually increase Hernandez's workload until opening day on April 1, against the A's in Oakland.
In fact, the Mariners plan to try to have Hernandez avoid AL West foes otherwise this spring, but thought it worth it to get him the start Monday to get that schedule going.
That apparently means that on Saturday, when the Mariners play the A's again in Peoria, Hernandez will not pitch but will instead take the mound in a minor-league game.
If he were to stay on a five-day schedule, his next spring start in a major-league game would come March 17 against Kansas City in Surprise, Ariz. The team, however, does not announce starters this far ahead.
In what has been a pretty quiet Mariners camp, Hernandez's first start qualified as big news.
For once, a team that has been largely ignored by the national media this spring, had a fairly sizable nonlocal contingent on hand, clustered around Hernandez afterward.
One wanted to know what Hernandez thought of the Mariners' proclamation that they won't trade him, even if every other team in baseball — most with higher immediate aspirations — would obviously be interested.
"That's good," Hernandez said with a wide smile. "Oh yeah, I love it, this is the best for me. I love it here. I want to stay here."
• The Mariners had only six hits, taking advantage of two errors and six walks. Seattle had four singles and two doubles and has gone six games without a home run.
• The Mariners announced that Marilyn Niehaus, the widow of longtime broadcaster Dave Niehaus, will throw out the first pitch for the home opener April 8 against Cleveland at Safeco Field.
• A review of an MRI of catcher Miguel Olivo's strained left groin didn't reveal much more clarity to when he will return. The team said there is no set timetable for his return and that it will "proceed cautiously" with his rehab. Olivo said Sunday he thought he would rest for a week or so before undertaking more regular activity. He was optimistic he would be ready by opening day.
• Adam Moore, who becomes the No. 1 catcher in Olivo's absence, was originally scheduled to start at catcher Monday but was scratched after feeling ill and being sent home. That left the M's with just three catchers. Chris Gimenez got the start.
• Jason Vargas will make his first start of the spring Tuesday against the Giants. The M's will also have a B game against the Dodgers at 10 a.m., with Luke French starting for Seattle.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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