Felix Hernandez made his first start of the spring, giving up three runs on six hits with one walk and five strikeouts against the Rockies on Monday at Peoria Stadium.
PEORIA, Ariz. — The first Cactus League start for Mariners ace Felix Hernandez wasn’t great, and it wasn’t terrible. The 50-pitch outing Monday against the Colorado Rockies at Peoria Stadium fell somewhere in the middle.
And even if it had been awful or outstanding, it wouldn’t have mattered in predicting 2016 success or failure. Perhaps his catcher, Chris Iannetta, offered the prevailing Mariners sentiment:
“The results really don’t matter,” he said. “You just take away how you feel and if you’re healthy, which he is. And did his stuff look good? Yes. So that’s all that matters.”
Hernandez reached his pitch limit in 2 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on six hits with a walk. He struck out five.
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“It was good,” Hernandez said. “I was happy to be out there again. I felt strong.”
Hernandez threw 11 pitches in the first inning — 10 strikes. The non-strike led to a run. After giving up a one-out triple to hot-hitting Rockies prospect Trevor Story, Hernandez seemed ready to strand the runner and strike out Raimel Tapia for the second out of the inning. But his 0-1 fastball went behind left-handed-hitting Ben Paulsen, giving Iannetta no chance to catch the ball. It flew to the backstop for a wild pitch, and Story trotted home.
“That’s the Arizona cutter,” Iannetta said of the pitch. “Dry air and the ball just takes off some times. It happens.”
Hernandez laughed at the location of the pitch. He hasn’t thrown behind a hitter in a long time.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “I guess I just pulled too much on my front side.”
Hernandez found trouble in the second inning. Ryan Raburn jumped on the first pitch for a double to left-center. Hernandez struck out Tom Murphy but gave up a perfectly placed bunt single down the third-base line to Cristhian Adames. With runners on the corners, Hernandez came back and struck out the next two hitters — Dustin Garneau and Rafael Ynoa — to end the inning.
He did not make it out of the third inning.
Charlie Blackmon dumped a single into left field to start the inning. Hernandez then walked Story and gave up another bunt single to Tapia to load the bases. He struck out Ryan Casteel. But again Raburn jumped on the first pitch, lining a single into left field to score two runs.
“Lot of swings at the first pitch,” Hernandez said.
As Mariners manager Scott Servais noted, Rockies hitters were aggressive on the first pitch and early in the count. They weren’t waiting for too many called strikes. Of the 14 batters Hernandez faced, seven swung at the first pitch and four more hacked at the second pitch.
“It’s spring training,” Iannetta said. “You can’t really set guys up. They don’t go up there with a plan. They are just up there swinging. Our plan was to get ahead, and we did that and they swung early and they ran into some balls.”
The single by Raburn was Hernandez’s 50th pitch, ending his outing.
“When I got to the mound to take him out, he said, ‘I’m fine. I’m fine,’ ” Servais said. “But we have to be smart. We had a pitch limit on him, and he got there.”
Hernandez had other thoughts on his outing:
“I was pounding the strike zone, good curveball, good changeup,” he said. “But I have to get a little more command with my fastball. I feel really good. But there has to be more command with it. They aren’t quality strikes.”
It was the first time Iannetta had caught Hernandez this spring. He had faced him 33 times as an opponent and had just three hits — one a solo homer — and four walks and 11 strikeouts for a .103 batting average.
“It was kind of what I expected,” Iannetta said. “Just seeing him as a hitter, everything was extremely explosive, and when I was catching him you can see why it’s so hard to hit him. That curveball has good shape to it, and it just explodes about halfway there and starts falling off the table really hard and biting. The changeup speaks for itself. It’s one of the best pitches in the game. You guys have seen it time and time again.”
Iannetta talked with last year’s starting catcher, Mike Zunino, before the game about Hernandez’s likes and dislikes in counts and situations.
“So I had a pretty good feel, but it’s going to take a few times to really know,” Iannetta said. “I don’t think we had any issues. I didn’t see any delays in the game. There were a couple pitches he shook to, but it was nothing out of the ordinary.”
Hernandez said Iannetta was “really good” behind the plate. So everyone seems content with the showing.
“The ball was coming out of his hand good, and all of his pitches were there,” Servais said. “He’s healthy, and all of his pitches are working. He just left a couple of balls up.”
Hernandez is scheduled to pitch again Saturday night against the Diamondbacks in a split squad game at Peoria Stadium.