Mariners' Felix Hernandez looks sharp in simulated game
Seattle ace Felix Hernandez pitched well in a two-inning, 35-pitch effort against minor-leaguers, and Jason Vargas helped himself in the battle for the fifth spot in the Mariners' rotation.
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — Felix Hernandez's slow drive into spring training is about to pick up some speed.
After he pitched a two-inning simulated game Tuesday morning, part of the team's plan to limit the number of live-action game innings he pitches this spring, he pronounced himself ready for some real competition. He's likely to get it Sunday when he's slated to get his first start of the spring against the Rockies in Tucson.
Aside from one of Seattle's aces finally getting on the mound, what Hernandez's return also means is a potential tightening of the opportunities for the quartet of pitchers who have been competing for the fifth spot in the rotation.
So Jason Vargas picked a good time to make a strong impression, throwing 3-2/3 scoreless inning against the Indians on Tuesday. Cleveland came back to win the game 6-4, but Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu later pointed to Vargas, a left-hander, as a bright spot.
"I thought he was outstanding," Wakamatsu said after Vargas allowed two hits, a walk and struck out one in throwing 49 pitches.
Vargas' solid performance came a day after one of the other main competitors for the spot, Doug Fister, had a shaky outing against Milwaukee, giving up two hits, two walks and two runs in two innings. Fister has allowed four runs in four innings in two games.
Another contender, Garrett Olson, has also been rocked, allowing six earned runs in 1-2/3 innings. The fourth, Luke French, pitched two scoreless innings against the Padres on Friday. Both French and Olson are scheduled to pitch Wednesday against the Rangers in relief of Cliff Lee, who will make his first spring start meaning he and Hernandez are rounding into game shape.
But all of the others might be chasing Vargas, who threw two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, against San Diego last Thursday.
"What I like about (Vargas) is he's in better shape from last year and it looks like his mechanics are a little tighter and he looks confident," Wakamatsu said, noting that on Monday Fister "was a little bit nervous. We didn't see that out of Vargas."
Vargas held the fifth-starter role off-and-on last season, starting 14 games, going 3-6 overall. He was obtained by Seattle in the J.J. Putz-Franklin Gutierrez deal and had missed the 2008 season after having left hip surgery in 2007.
But the 27-year-old said the hip is not an issue now, and having had a full offseason to prepare for spring training has him in better shape.
"People here believed in me when they traded for me and the fact I could prove I could stay healthy for the duration of a season and coming in and getting training back on schedule has helped out tremendously," he said.
The confidence Wakamatsu noted might be rooted in Vargas' attempt to block out all the talk of the competition brewing around him.
"I think if you are worrying about the big picture and what's going on behind closed doors and who is making decisions, then that just puts added stress on you when you are out there," he said. "And to do that you are not doing yourself any favors."
Felix happy with simulated game
Hernandez threw 35 pitches, facing three Mariners minor-leaguers a total of nine times. All were outs other than a ball hit to the outfield that was misplayed. None of the others made it out of the infield and Hernandez struck out five. Afterward, both Hernandez and Wakamatsu proclaimed themselves happy with how it went.
"I thought he looked outstanding," Wakamatsu said. "It's really impressive to me to watch the difference in a year in the way he goes about his business. I think he is on track, even though we have held him back a little bit. Watching the action of his pitches, I couldn't be more pleased at this point."
Hernandez will throw a bullpen session Thursday then likely pitch against the Rockies on Sunday.
Said Hernandez as he approached reporters: "You guys see the results? I feel pretty good."
Wakamatsu said the team wants to hold Hernandez to about 20 innings this spring.
• The Mariners reported to the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District that they made $3.2 million in the fiscal year that ended Oct. 31, 2009. That came after posting a $4.5 million loss in 2008. They cited the increase largely to increased revenue due to a better team on the field as the Mariners won 85 games in 2009 after winning just 61 in 2008.
• Jose Lopez again started at third and let a foul ball drop in a swirling wind, though there was no ruling on the play. He later handled a grounder, and made a throw for the out with no problems.
• Catcher Rob Johnson, attempting to recover from offseason hip surgery, caught Hernandez's simulated game and could see his first game action Sunday.
• Reliever David Aardsma threw a bullpen session that Wakamatsu said went well. He could return as early as Friday.
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