Jerry Brewer | The Mariners’ ace is excited for Opening Day on April 6 and his team’s drive for its first playoff appearance in 14 years.

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PEORIA, Ariz. – Felix Hernandez strutted out of Peoria Stadium in that familiar, confident gait. He looked like a conquering ace, satisfied after an overpowering performance, acknowledging the crowd’s applause and making respectful gestures toward the opponent he just befuddled.

He bumped fists with Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez, his fellow Venezuelan and the man who caught Hernandez when he started the All-Star Game last season. He hugged Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu, the former Mariners manager. And after tipping his cap to a Thursday-afternoon crowd of 6,523, Hernandez sprinted the rest of the way to the clubhouse.

Twenty minutes later, he made a declaration that should start the countdown to the April 6 season opener at Safeco Field.

No support

Felix’s numbers in M’s 3-0 loss Thursday to Kansas City:

6 Innings

4 Strikeouts

2 Hits

1 Runs

“I feel like I’m where I want to be,” Hernandez said. “I’ll be ready for opening day.”

He’s ready for any day.

Asked if he’d be ready if tomorrow were opening day, Hernandez said matter-of-factly, “Yeah.”

Certainly, he pitched like it during the Mariners’ 3-0 Cactus League loss to Kansas City on Thursday. Hernandez threw 65 pitches over six innings. Forty-five of those were strikes. Hernandez allowed just two hits and one earned run. He didn’t walk a batter, and he struck out four. Then he went to the bullpen and threw a dozen more pitches to keep building his arm strength.

After giving up six runs and six hits in only 2 2/3 innings last week against the Chicago Cubs, Hernandez wanted to do more than just get in work this time. He wanted to see his changeup move wickedly again. He wanted to command his fastball and make progress with his secondary pitches.

When you’ve accomplished as much as Hernandez — a five-time All-Star and the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner — spring training is more chore than opportunity. He doesn’t need to shine; he just needs to put in the work to prepare his arm for 34 starts. Still, it was important to see a glimpse of the real King Felix in late March.

“Felix was outstanding,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It was a very good outing and one that I was anxious to see. It was very pleasing to the eye.”

With his right arm wrapped in ice, Hernandez sat in the clubhouse after his start and smiled through an interview. He looked at the television to watch the rest of the Mariners game and joked, “I’m losing, so we need to score.”

The Mariners could only muster singles by Nelson Cruz and Shawn O’Malley, and Hernandez fell to 0-2 this spring. But he’s more concerned with the regular season now.

Kansas City 3, Mariners 0

at Peoria Stadium

Notable: Alex Jackson, the Mariners’ 2014 first-round draft pick, made his first Cactus League start in right field. Jackson, who had two hits in five at-bats entering the game, was 0 for 3 at the plate.

Player of the game: Felix Hernandez was outstanding, allowing just two hits and one run over six innings. But Kansas City starter Jeremy Guthrie was just as effective, allowing only two singles — one by Nelson Cruz, the other by Shawn O’Malley — in 5 2/3 scoreless innings to win the game.

Quotable: “I told you guys before: He stinks in the spring. And if he had to make a club in the spring, he’d never make it. So you’ve got to know your personnel. He’s working hard. He’s trying hard. I suspect he will be just fine. His track record says that he will be.” – Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon on setup man Danny Farquhar’s struggles this spring (5.63 ERA, including allowing two runs in 2/3 of an inning Thursday).

On tap: The Mariners will be back to night baseball on Friday when they travel to Surprise Stadium to take on Kansas City. Lefty James Paxton will get the start for Seattle, while young right-hander Yordano Ventura will get the nod for KC. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. The game will be televised on FoxSports Midwest and broadcast live on ESPN 710. ​

Brewers 15, Mariners 1

at Maryvale Park

Notable: In what could have been Roenis Ellias’ last start of Cactus League play, the young left-hander was roughed up for six runs on eight hits in three innings of work. Milwaukee hitters banged out 22 hits in the game.

Player of the game: Jesus Sucre returned to game action after being sidelined for a few days with a sore right hip. The Mariners’ backup catcher, who isn’t known for his offensive prowess, drove in Seattle’s only run of the game.

Quotable: “It was just a day where things were clicking well for their offense and our defense was put to the test almost every inning. We pitched behind in the count and a good hitting team will get you when you do that.” — bench coach Trent Jewett.

Jerry Brewer, Ryan Divish

He’ll have a final Cactus League start next week. But he’s already thinking about starting on opening day at Safeco Field.

“First I want to see King’s Court, and then it’s been a while since we opened in Seattle, so it’s going to be a great, great, great experience,” Hernandez said. “I’ll be pumped. But I’ll be calm.”

Hernandez will make the start two days before his 29th birthday. He has a few stray gray hairs on his head now. He’s not the precocious King anymore. He’s a grown man who lived up to the hype, and now he has a chance to lead the Mariners to their first playoff appearance in 14 years.

He wants to win badly. He also wouldn’t mind capturing the second Cy Young that he thought he had earned a year ago. But he understands there’s a process to such greatness, and he doesn’t plan on skipping steps.

Just as he responded to that poor outing against the Cubs by making the necessary adjustments in his next bullpen session, he’ll respect the grind all season.

“I’m happy with what I did today,” Hernandez said. “All the pitches were there. I’m really happy.

“The changeup was nice. The slider was good. The fastball was unbelievable. And when my fastball is good, that makes everything better. … It feels really good, man. My arm, legs, my whole body feels really good.”

He’s ready to return to Seattle. He’s ready to handle a season of high expectations. He’s ready to build upon last season.

Hernandez last pitched at Safeco Field in the season finale. He won that game, but the Mariners fell one game short of the playoffs. Still, Hernandez remembers the applause from the crowd of 40,823 after McClendon took him out of the game. Even amid disappointment, fans showed their appreciation for Hernandez, for the Mariners and the start of something new. It was an emotional day.

But to Hernandez, it was incomplete.

It’s time to give the fans more.

“The fans were unbelievable,” Hernandez said. “Hopefully, it’ll be better on opening day.”

In 10 days, Hernandez will strut into Safeco Field in that familiar, confident gait. You know the walk. You’ve seen it for 10 years. It never gets old.