Felix Hernandez struggled with his command in the first inning, but by the third he was looking more like King Felix. He’ll be gone a few weeks playing for Team Venezuela.

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PEORIA, Ariz. — If all goes as Felix Hernandez hopes, he won’t be pitching for the Mariners again for the next two weeks.

With the World Baseball Classic looming, Hernandez hopes that he will help lead Venezuela to the title.

“We are real excited,” Hernandez said. “I think we got a pretty good team.”

Dodgers 7, Mariners (SS) 3 at Camelback Ranch

Notable: Top pitching prospect Andrew Moore made his first start of the spring and pitched well, tossing two scoreless innings and allowing one hit with a strikeout and a hit batter. Moore threw just 20 pitches in his two innings of work. Moore hit the first batter he faced but got former Mariner Franklin Gutierrez to ground into a double play.

The Mariners committed three errors, which led to three unearned runs.

Closer Edwin Diaz made his final appearance before joining Team Puerto Rico for the World Baseball Classic. Diaz pitched a quick 1-2-3 inning with a strikeout and two ground-ball outs.

Player of the game: Kyle Waldrop provided all of the Mariners’ offense with one swing of the bat. Waldrop hit his first homer of the season, crushing a three-run shot into the visitor’s bullpen off right-hander Josh Ravin in the sixth inning.

Quotable: “I really liked his fastball location. He threw the ball really well and commanded the zone. He actually got a changeup for a pop up, so his off-speed was working pretty well. He dominated the strike zone. Edwin was good; he started working on his fastball command and location. He started working on some fastballs up to set up some of his other pitches. He was pretty sharp.” — bench coach Tim Bogar on the outings of Andrew Moore and Edwin Diaz.

A’s 5, Mariners (SS) 4 at Peoria Stadium

Notable: Felix Hernandez made his last start of the Cactus League before his extended hiatus to pitch for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.

Chase De Jong made his debut with the Mariners, tossing two innings and giving up two runs (one earned) on three hits with a walk and a strikeout.

Lefty James Pazos continued his solid spring, posting a third scoreless, one-inning appearance. Pazos gave up a one-out hit but struck out the final two hitters he faced, flashing a fastball that touched 95 mph.

Hard-throwing right-hander Thyago Vieira had his first struggles of the spring, losing command of his fastball in his one inning of work. Vieira, who can throw his fastball up to 102 mph, gave up a run on a hit with three walks.

Player of the game: Daniel Vogelbach launched an RBI double to deep left-center off lefty Daniel Coulombe and then singled to left field off hard-throwing reliever John Axford.

Quotable: “He’s learning. He’s learning. It is part of the process. It’s been a lot. He’s come a long way in a year. I like the arm. I like the stuff. He got a little out of whack today, but he was able to get out of it. He’s learning and it was a good experience for him.” — Servais on Vieira

On Tap: The Mariners will host the Texas Rangers at Peoria Stadium on Monday. Left-hander Drew Smyly will make his second start of the spring. Also scheduled to pitch are right-handers Max Povse, Cody Martin, Jean Machi and lefty Nick Hagadone. The Rangers will start right-hander A.J. Griffin. First pitch is set for 1:10 p.m. The game will be televised on Root Sports and MLB.TV and also broadcast on ESPN 710 AM.

Ryan Divish

Indeed, he should have some run support with Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, Salvador Perez of the Royals, Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies, Odubel Herrera of the Phillies and his nemesis Jose Altuve of the Astros.

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While a WBC title would give him bragging rights over teammates such as Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, who played on the last WBC championship team for the Dominican Republic in 2013, it would also mean something for his home country that has been racked by a failing economy, rampant poverty, violent protests and general unrest.

“It’s really important to give Venezuela a victory after everything that is happening there and the situation there being so bad,” he said. “A win for Venezuela would be meaningful.”

Hernandez pitched for Venezuela in 2009, but did not participate in 2013 as he and the Mariners were finalizing a massive contract extension.

“It was tough,” he said. “It was better for me. I wasn’t ready for that.”

The quest for the WBC title starts on Thursday in Jalisco, Mexico, with Pool D play. Hernandez will start Venezuela’s opener, facing a loaded Puerto Rico team that features hard-hitting infielders Carlos Correa of the Astros, Francisco Lindor of the Indians and Javier Baez of the Cubs.

“They’re loaded,” Hernandez said.

How long Hernandez remains away from the Mariners is determinant on Venezuela’s success. If his team continues to advance, Hernandez could make two or three starts in the WBC. The championship pool runs from March 20-22.

“It’s just a short tournament,” he said.

The Mariners and their fans might not feel that way.

Obviously, the organization has some level of anxiety with having any player participate in the WBC. An injury to a key player before the season starts would be less than ideal for any team. But Hernandez is critical to Seattle’s success this season. With a rotation that has other lingering questions, they need Hernandez to have a bounce back season.

A year ago, he missed six weeks with a calf injury and even when healthy dealt with serious command issues with his fastball and an inability to consistently put away hitters. He posted an 11-8 record with a 3.82 ERA in 25 starts and set a career high in walk percentage (9.9).

Manager Scott Servais, general manager Jerry Dipoto and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre all asked him to refocus his offseason workouts on building strength in his legs and core while also refining some mechanical changes and coming more prepared to spring training. They embraced his desire to play in the WBC hoping it would provide additional motivation for him to make those changes on top of last season’s disappointing results.

“With Felix and where he’s at right now, he’s in a little bit different spot than he has ever been before,” Servais said. “He’s been challenged and he wants to bounce back and have a big year.”

His last start before his WBC hiatus on Sunday showed hints of the issues of last season but also some of the progress made from the offseason.

Hernandez gave up two runs in the first inning to the Oakland A’s because of wandering fastball command. Two fastballs that leaked back over the middle of the plate led to back-to-back run-scoring hits from Ryon Healy and Mark Canha.

“The first inning was a little rough,” he said. “After that, I started locating a little better.”

The command that is so necessary for Hernandez to have success — with his velocity down a few ticks in recent years — started to come around in the second inning. His final inning of work — the third — was his best. He needed just nine pitches to get through the inning, striking out Adam Rosales and Stephen Vogt.

His fastball velocity sat at 91-92, which is a good sign for this early in the spring.

“It feels good,” he said of finishing strong. “I was more calm and more confident and I was throwing more strikes.”

King of the WBC?
Felix Hernandez pitched for Venezuela in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, won by Japan. Venezuela lost in the semifinals. This year, Felix’s team is one of the favorites.
Year W-L ERA Games WHIP IP
2009 Felix in World Baseball Classic 2-0 0.00 2 1.27 8.2
2009 Felix with Mariners 19-5 2.49 34 1.135 238.2
Source: worldbaseballclassic.com, baseball-reference.com