Felix Hernandez stepped on a pitcher's mound for the first time since last season. The Mariners' ace threw his first bullpen session of the spring on Saturday.
PEORIA, Ariz. — With a crowd of on-lookers watching just 10 feet away through a chain link fence and his own son, Jeremy, just feet behind him, Felix Hernandez stepped on a pitcher’s mound for the first time since Sept. 26 of last year.
In preparation for the upcoming season, Hernandez threw his first bullpen session of the spring on Saturday in front of pleased group of fans. It was his first step in his preparation to make the Mariners’ opening day start against the Rangers at Globe Life Park on April 4.
Hernandez threw around 40 pitches, mixing in his fastball, changeup and both breaking balls while manager Scott Servais and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre watched closely.
“It felt good today,” he said. “It felt like everything came out easy. It felt like the pitches were all there, so I’m happy about it.”
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Hernandez spent the offseason reflecting on his mechanical issues and rough outings he had last season. While he posted an 18-9 record with a 3.54 ERA with 201 2/3 innings pitched and 191 strikeouts, he was still disappointed with his overall performance. In 2014, Hernandez was 15-6 with an American League low 2.14 ERA while throwing 236 innings and striking out 248 batters.
“You seen it, man,” he said. “Last year, I was inconsistent. I left a lot of balls up. There were a lot of homers. So I decided to keep the ball down and fix my mechanics.”
Hernandez gave up 23 homers in 2015, up from 16 in 2014, and the most since 2006. He believes he’ll return to the 2014 form with the some corrections and consistency with in his delivery. The changes aren’t drastic and might not be noticeable upon first or second glance.
“It’s just staying closed and not opening the front side,” he said. “It feels different, but it feels good, too.”
While most pitchers in camp have already thrown two bullpens and graduated to throwing live batting practice, Hernandez is on a different plan. The Mariners’ medical staff developed Hernandez’s personal throwing program four years ago. It’s what he’s comfortable with in terms of preparing him for the season. It replaces some of his Cactus League starts with controlled situations.
“I don’t think I need to throw a lot of innings in spring training to be ready for the season.” he said.
Servais and Stottlemyre are aware of Hernandez’s preferred throwing program and have no problem with it.
The plan for Hernandez is to throw one more bullpen session, followed by a live batting practice session and then at least one simulated game before he steps on the mound for a Cactus League start.
“We’re just slow playing it,” Servais said. “He’ll be ready to go April 4. Like I said earlier, it’s almost the same program as last year.”