In a two-inning simulated game Wednesday morning, his first game action of the spring, Hernandez did what you’d expect: dominated the minor-leaguers he was facing.
PEORIA, Ariz. – On a back field at the Peoria Sports Complex, facing players with high numbers and unfamiliar names, Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez began his journey to an opening-day start.
In a two-inning simulated game Wednesday morning, his first game action of the spring, Hernandez did what you’d expect: dominated the minor-leaguers he was facing. But more important than the five strikeouts, groundout and walk in his 29-pitch outing was the way he felt afterward.
“Physically, I feel really good,’’ he said. “Mechanics were really good, too. Pitches were there, so I’m happy for the work. I’m ready for the 14th. I’ll be ready.’’
Hernandez was referring to his scheduled March 14 Cactus League debut against the Rockies. He hopes to go three innings as he builds toward opening day April 4 at Texas. In the meantime, Hernandez said he used all his pitches Wednesday and had good command of his fastball, breaking ball and changeup.
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The lineup he faced included Tyler O’Neill, who had 32 homers in the minors last year and reached Hernandez for a long home run in a live-batting-practice session over the weekend. This time, he struck out.
“I used the same approach as I do when I face big-league hitters,’’ Hernandez said. “They’re professionals, too. I try to face them the same way, and treat it like a real game.”
Earlier in the morning, Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Hernandez, “It’s time for Felix to pitch in the playoffs and to pull a few guys along with him. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
He praised Hernandez’s participation in the “chalk talks” the Mariners are holding to discuss pitching strategy and mechanics.
“Now we’re in games, pitchers are talking about their outings,’’ Servais said. “They’re all in the room chiming in about different things that come up, pitch sequences, certain game situation type things. You’re going to draw from (Hernandez’s) experience.
“He’s been very open and willing to jump in those discussions and throw his viewpoint out — which is great. It’s great for all the pitchers in the room, because obviously, Felix is a great competitor but he also has a great feel for pitching and situational pitching as well. That’s the first thing that happens. Just to learn from his experiences.”
Said Hernandez: “We talk about our outing, and approach for every outing. It’s fun. I’ve been a talking a lot in the meetings. I’m not a guy that talks a lot, but I’ve been talking a lot.”
Hernandez’s older brother, Moises, has retired after 12 minor-league seasons, including the past five in the Mariners organization. He’ll be the pitching coach for the Everett AquaSox.
“He’s ready for that job,’’ Felix said. “He’ll approach it the same as he did as a player. I think he’s going to be good.”