In his first spring start, Hernandez struck out two, throwing 19 strikes in 33 pitches. He said he felt strong.
SURPRISE, Ariz. — It takes some doing to upstage Felix Hernandez, but Mariners hitting prospect Stefen Romero managed to pull it off on Thursday.
While Hernandez was making a solid Cactus League debut, Romero went on a power rampage to lead a Mariners split squad to a 12-2 win over the previously unbeaten Kansas City Royals.
Romero, the Mariners’ minor-league player of the year last season, went 4 for 5 with a grand slam, a three-run homer, a double, seven runs batted in and four runs scored.
Manager Eric Wedge was in Phoenix with the other split squad for a game against Oakland, a 7-3 loss. But rest assured the manager will get a vivid accounting of Romero’s outing.
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“It’s all word-of-mouth,” Romero said. “It will get back to him.”
The 24-year-old Romero was already on the Mariners’ radar after hitting a combined .352 last season in 116 games with Class A High Desert and AA Jackson, with 64 extra-base hits (34 doubles, seven triples and 23 homers) and 101 runs batted in. And now he’s at .500 (7 for 14) this spring.
“I was put in situations where guys in front of me got on base, produced, and luckily I got great pitches to hit and drove the ball well today,” said Romero, primarily a second baseman but capable of playing third and the outfield.
His grand slam came in the fourth inning off Guillermo Moscoso.
“I wasn’t trying to hit on the ground,” Romero said. “I was trying to get up in the air somewhere in the outfield. He got behind in the count 2-0 real quick. I was sitting fastball and luckily he threw me a fastball and I put a good swing on it.”
Romero’s next homer came in the ninth off Anthony Ortega and went deep into the grassy area behind the center-field wall.
“It was my last at-bat and I got a little greedy,” Romero said. “I was just trying to hit the ball hard somewhere. He made a mistake and I got it.”
Casper Wells drove in four runs with a double and three-run homer, and has nine RBI in his past two games. The Royals had been 11-0-1 this spring.
Hernandez happy with debut
Hernandez, being brought along slowly this spring, pronounced himself satisfied with his belated 2013 debut.
“Finally. Now I’m part of the Seattle Mariners. Just kidding,” he said. “I think it was a better debut than last year. I felt pretty good.”
In two innings against the Royals, Hernandez gave up two hits and a run, both in his second inning of work. He struck out two, throwing 33 pitches (19 strikes).
Though his gun readings were a concern to some last spring, Hernandez actually had a strong debut. On March 6, 2012, he worked three scoreless, hitless innings against the Reds, striking out four.
Thursday, he peaked at 92 mph and sat in the low 90s, respectable for a first time out. He said he felt strong in the windup but struggled a bit to get his rhythm from the stretch.
“From the stretch, I was a little too quick,” he said. “I was opening too much. I need to work on that in the bullpen.”
Hernandez said he threw five or six change-ups. The run off him came on David Lough’s double on a fastball that Hernandez said was down the middle.
Hernandez scoffed at the concerns over his velocity in last year’s camp.
“By the end of the year, I was throwing 94,” he said. “I’m just getting stronger and stronger. I feel better.”
Asked if he did anything different to prepare for this year, Hernandez said, “No, why? Nope. The same.”
Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas, who struck out on a changeup, was impressed.
“He changed speeds well. Moved the ball in and out. For being his first time out in spring, he looked really good.”
Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis said Hernandez is right on schedule.
“It’s nice to see him get back out there and compete again,” he said. “He felt great. His fastball was good, changeup right there as it always is. He threw some good sliders as well. Most importantly, he felt good. We’ll see him again in five days.”
Iwakuma looks sharp on mound
Hisashi Iwakuma followed Hernandez and worked three strong innings, holding Kansas City scoreless on one hit. He said he is far ahead of where he was at this time last spring.
“I feel a lot stronger this year,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “I came prepared. Last year was a little different story for me. This year, I know I’m in the starting rotation. I started a lot earlier than where I was last year. That helped me a lot.”
Iwakuma said he felt “great” in his outing.
“I think I’m at 70 percent now,” he said. “My fastball I’m able to locate down in the strike zone, which is a good sign. My breaking ball could be sharper. That’s what I look forward to working on from now until the end of spring training.”
Said Willis of Iwakuma: “He’s stronger, he’s pitching with a lot of confidence. We saw so many ground balls today, and a good curveball as well.”
Hultzen feeling better
Left-handed pitching prospect Danny Hultzen says he’s feeling much better since being shut down Monday by a mild strain of his right hip flexor.
Hultzen played catch off a mound Thursday. Willis said the plan is for him to have a light bullpen session Friday.
“If that goes well, we’ll give him a day, then a normal pen the following day, then transition him back in a game. He’s much better.”
Hultzen has been undergoing treatment since being hurt during the pitchers’ early-morning conditioning workout. The Mariners felt all long the injury was not serious and that Hultzen could be back in a week or so.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be any longer than this,” Hultzen said. “I’m just glad everything’s gone smoothly.”
In two outings this spring, Hultzen has worked three scoreless innings, giving up just one hit while striking out six.
• In Phoenix, Jeremy Bonderman pitched to one batter over the minimum in a three-inning stint, giving up a solo home run to Andy Parrino. Brandon Maurer also pitched three innings (four hits, one run), while James Paxton was knocked out after two-thirds of an inning. He gave up three runs on three hits and two walks.
Robert Andino homered for the Mariners.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @StoneLarry
ATHLETICS 7, MARINERS (SS) 3
|Andino 2b||4||1||2||1||Crisp cf||3||0||1||0|
|Thames lf||5||0||1||0||S.Peterson rf||2||0||1||0|
|Bay rf||4||0||1||0||Nakajima ss||3||1||2||1|
|A.Almonte rf||0||0||0||0||Rosales ss||1||0||0||0|
|K.Morales dh||4||1||2||0||Reddick rf||2||0||1||1|
|Jacobs 1b||4||0||1||0||Parrino 3b||1||1||1||1|
|Zunino c||3||1||1||0||Cespedes dh||4||0||1||1|
|R.Paulino c||1||0||0||0||Moss 1b||3||0||0||0|
|B.Miller ss||3||0||1||0||M.Choice cf||1||0||0||0|
|V.Ctricala 3b||4||0||1||1||C.Young lf||2||2||1||0|
|F.Mrtinez cf||4||0||1||0||S.Moore 1b||1||0||0||0|
|Seattle (ss)||000 002 100||—||3|
|Oakland||001 321 00x||—||7|
E — G.Green (1). DP — Seattle 1, Oakland 2. LOB — Seattle 8, Oakland 6. HR — Andino (1), Parrino (1), Lowrie (1). SB — Nakajima (2). CS — Andino (1).
|B.Maurer L, 1-1||3||4||1||1||1||4|
|Milone W, 1-0||3||3||0||0||1||3|
Balk — B.Maurer. T — 2:31. A — 4,213.
MARINERS (SS) 12, ROYALS 2
|Seager 3b||4||2||0||0||A.Gordon lf||2||0||1||0|
|C.Wells lf||5||1||2||4||Durango lf||2||0||0||0|
|Smoak 1b||5||0||1||1||A.Escobar ss||2||0||0||0|
|Morse dh||5||0||1||0||C.Colon ss||2||0||0||0|
|C.Peguero rf||4||0||0||0||Mstakas 3b||2||0||0||0|
|Shoppach c||3||1||2||0||B.Wood 3b||2||0||1||0|
|J.Sucre c||2||0||0||0||L.Cain cf||2||1||1||0|
|J.Morban cf||4||2||1||0||J.Dyson cf||2||0||0||0|
|Triunfel ss||4||2||1||0||Francoeur dh||4||0||1||0|
|S.Romero 2b||5||4||4||7||Lough rf||2||0||1||1|
|Seattle (ss)||001 500 033||—||12|
|Kansas City||010 000 010||—||2|
E — C.Wells (1), E.Santana (1), B.Wood (2). LOB — Seattle 8, Kansas City 6. 2B — C.Wells (3), Smoak (3), Shoppach (2), S.Romero (1), A.Gordon (2), B.Wood (2), Lough (2). 3B — A.Moore (1). HR — C.Wells (2), S.Romero 2 (2).
|Iwakuma W, 1-0||3||1||0||0||0||1|
|Moscoso L, 0-1||1||4||5||5||2||1|
HBP — by A.Ortega (Triunfel). T — 3:08. A — 4,026.