Felix Hernandez met with the media to discuss on Tuesday as Mariners' pitchers and catchers reported to Peoria for their physicals.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Felix Hernandez seemed perplexed when he saw the small group of writers waiting to corner him at his locker in the Mariners’ spring training clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon — report day for the team’s pitchers and catchers.
“Already?!?!” he said.
Yes, Felix. Already.
Regardless of his casual surprise — real or feigned — there is no bigger story going into the Mariners’ 2017 season than their longtime ace and his battle against Father Time and a mounting number of innings piled on his right arm.
For the Mariners to finish over .500 for a second straight year, and more important earn the club’s first postseason appearance since 2001, the 31-year-old Hernandez must return to some semblance of his former self.
Can he do that?
“I’ve got to prove people wrong,” he said. “I feel fine. I’m healthy and that’s the main thing.”
And yet there are a fair amount of people who are skeptical, given his age, the innings accrued, his meandering command and decreased velocity.
Does he think people are beginning to doubt him?
“Sometimes, I think so,” he said. “I don’t know why. I’m still here.”
Much of that could stem from last season, where he posted an 11-8 record with a 3.82 ERA in 25 starts, while spending almost seven weeks on the disabled list with a calf injury. While he wasn’t his former Cy Young self, and there is fair reason to wonder if he’ll ever be that guy again, Hernandez was almost good enough to lead the Mariners to baseball after Game No. 162. If he could have avoided the disabled list, or worked through some of his mechanical and command struggles during his other starts, the Mariners’ 86-76 record might have improved by a game or two, giving him his first appearance in the postseason.
On the final day of last season, his manager and general manager publicly encouraged/challenged Hernandez to put more work in during the offseason and become more focused in his preparation. It was something that hadn’t been levied at him in his time with the Mariners.
Hernandez flushed the disappointing results of 2016 when the season ended, choosing not to relive or reflect on what he couldn’t change.
“I wasn’t thinking about anything,” he said. “I just wanted to forget about everything and have fun in the offseason.”
That fun included a trip to Africa and a safari with his family and then some quality time spent with Iron Glenn.
That would be Iron Glenn Freeman.
The New York-based trainer, who works with Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Yankees reliever Dellin Betances and more, helps athletes have “fun” working out and preparing for the upcoming season.
“I talked to Cano and Nelly about him,” Hernandez said. “I went to New York to see him and I worked out with him for four days there and then we decided to keep working out in the offseason.”
The videos began to pop up on Instagram and Twitter with a slew of hashtags like #ReturnOfTheKing. They showed Hernandez doing an assortment of highly intense workouts featuring medicine balls, elastic bands and other apparatus. This wasn’t 30 minutes on an elliptical trainer and some sit-ups.