Mariners' Felix Hernandez looks sharp, ready for season
Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez struck out seven in five innings against Cleveland, then said he was ready for the season.
Seattle Times staff reporter
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Nothing signals the end of spring is near quite like the sight of bats swinging and missing at the best Felix Hernandez has to offer.
And nothing enables the Mariners to take a relaxing breath and smell the spring flowers quite like the knowledge they at least have Hernandez on track in a rotation where nobody is sure of what comes next. One sure bet is that Cliff Lee won't follow Hernandez to the mound when the season opens, given the stiffness Lee continued to feel in his abdomen during a five-minute session of very light catch on Thursday.
Hernandez went out a few hours later and fanned seven hitters over five innings of three-hit ball in a 3-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians in a split-squad game. Last year's Cy Young Award runner-up made batters miss when he had to and harnessed a tough-to-control sinker just enough to get a key double play in his next-to-last outing before the season opener.
"Last year, I threw a lot of innings because I played in the WBC," Hernandez said. "So, this year, they're trying to protect me a little bit, keep me fresh for the season. And I feel fine. I feel good."
If anything, he admitted to feeling a little too strong on Thursday.
That might have been the reason his pitches were moving a lot, and explain some of the four walks he issued. Thing is, even though his sinker was "moving too much," according to Hernandez, it was still his best pitch. Good enough to get him a key double play after he'd walked the first two hitters of the fourth inning.
"I'm ready," Hernandez said of starting the season.
That's excellent news for a Mariners team that, over in Surprise, Ariz., saw Chad Cordero yield five runs in the bottom of the ninth for the other half of the split-squad to take an 8-7 loss to the Kansas City Royals. The game was otherwise filled with plenty of good news for Seattle, especially on the pitching front.
The Mariners had Shawn Kelley throw three innings against the Royals in a "start" to stretch him out. He allowed two runs, and Kanekoa Texeira added 3-1/3 innings of scoreless ball after that.
Stretching both pitchers out remains a key for a team that might be forced to go with a long reliever in Lee's rotation spot for a few weeks.
The Mariners have a general idea of who will be in the rotation come April 5, when the season opens in Oakland, but the order of those starters is still being worked on. It's also unclear whether the Mariners will be content to stick with the arms already in camp.
A report Thursday by Sports Illustrated baseball columnist Jon Heyman suggested the Mariners are seriously considering re-signing left-handed starter Jarrod Washburn. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said this week he had not had contact with Washburn's camp in more than two weeks.
Washburn's agent, Scott Boras, was quoted this week saying his client had lowered his salary demands to $4.5 million but that the Mariners had not gotten back to him on it.
Mariners officials continue to insist the team is nearing its payroll limit, though that figure — believed to be in the low-$90 million range — appears far lower than the $99 million that Seattle opened last season with.
Zduriencik wouldn't comment on the status of his budget. He said after Lee's initial catch session on Tuesday that the team is taking it day-by-day and even by "segments of days" when it comes to gauging a return for Lee.
"I suspect that it will probably be within a month that he'll be fine," Zduriencik said. "But maybe sooner. That's what we're hoping."
A Washburn acquisition would likely signal the team has concerns about the rotation that extend beyond Lee's injury. Though Washburn has been training at home in Wisconsin, he would likely need at least a few weeks to be ready to join Seattle's rotation — about the same time the team hopes Lee will need to recover.
Lee said after his latest catch session that his abdomen "felt a little better" than it did during a similar catch session two days before. But Lee added that the level of catch he's playing is "as light as you can be."
In other words, the Mariners need plenty of help, from Hernandez, the middle relievers and maybe some pitchers not yet here, to get through the month of April unscathed.
• Mike Sweeney hit a home run in the loss to the Royals, as he continues his longshot bid to make the team as a nonroster player.
• Jack Hannahan has an appointment with a specialist in Philadelphia on Monday to determine whether his groin injury might be a sports hernia.
• Catcher Rob Johnson is to play Friday for the second straight day, his first back-to-back games of the spring.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners
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Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.