Randy Johnson to Mariners' Felix Hernandez: 'Win four more Cy Young Awards'
Felix Hernandez pronounces himself ready for a game Thursday after the Mariners' star chats with former Seattle great Randy Johnson.
Times staff reporter
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Different circumstances, different schedules this spring for Mariners pitchers planning to take spots in the same starting rotation.
While nonroster pitcher Nate Robertson knows he has to come out firing to land a job, Felix Hernandez is held back like a bull raring to go. Hernandez threw a 33-pitch simulated game Thursday before the Mariners' 6-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox, and pronounced himself ready to pitch in Cactus League games early next week.
Hernandez has been eased into his workload by the team the last two spring trainings in a bid to preserve an arm that threw an American League-best 249-2/3 innings last season and more than 200 in each of his past three campaigns.
"I was throwing strikes," Hernandez said, adding that he could tell his stuff is ready. "The breaking ball was good. Change-up was all right. Sometimes it cut. Sometimes it dropped down. Everything looked good."
Hernandez could pitch Monday or Tuesday, or even throw another simulated game. The Mariners say they'll have a better idea on Friday.
Throwing to live hitters was the second most memorable thing that happened to the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Thursday. It took a back seat to meeting a guy who hasn't pitched in a couple of years.
That would be retired former Mariners ace Randy Johnson, who dropped by the Peoria Sports Complex and had a chat with Hernandez.
"He told me I need to win four more Cy Youngs," Hernandez said. "And he said, 'You need 4,000 more strikeouts just to catch me.' "
Hernandez's reply: "I'll be there."
One pitcher who won't throw in Seattle's rotation any time soon is Aaron Laffey, the left-hander acquired late Wednesday from the Cleveland Indians for minor-league infielder Matt Lawson. The Mariners told Laffey that he'll be strictly in the bullpen for now.
That's just great with him.
"It's nice to know," said Laffey, 25, who bounced between starting and relief for several seasons in Cleveland. "I haven't had that in a spring training ever. I've always been coming in with question marks about where I'm going to be, especially the last two or three years."
Laffey said his shoulder "shut down" and his pitches topped out at just 80 mph last season, when the Indians moved him from the bullpen to the rotation.
"I think it's always been easier to go from starting to relieving because your volume decreases and you're only throwing a max of 30-35 pitches an outing," he said.
Laffey said it usually takes six weeks to move back to the rotation, although he did it in three last spring.
"I had to go from throwing 30 pitches in an outing to over 100," he said.
Among Mariners starters, Jason Vargas is in much the same boat as Hernandez, with the team conscious of his 192-2/3 innings thrown last year and also trying to ease him in this spring.
Luke French made some mechanical adjustments recently, and it showed Thursday when he held the White Sox to two hits over three scoreless innings. French tried taking the ball out of his glove earlier in his delivery but realized last week that he was doing it too fast and slowed things down.
But for French and others with no guarantees, there isn't any holding back. Robertson, who tossed two scoreless inning in his recent spring debut seemed aware of how urgent his situation is. He, French and others like Michael Pineda, David Pauley, Charlie Haeger and Garrett Olson are competing for the role as the No. 5 starter.
"I think at any given moment it's game-on," Robertson said. "They're not handing out Cy Young Awards in spring training, but at the same time, people have got to make the team. There are jobs to be filled, and they have to make those decisions."
In other words, not all starting pitchers are created equal. Nor, it would appear, are they treated that way in camp.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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HBP — by French (Beckham), by Marquez (Langerhans). A — 3,878.
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