Hernandez is working his way back from a strain to his right calf — the push-off leg in his delivery — that has kept him sidelined since May 28. The start is to be Hernandez’ last before his much-anticipated return on July 20th.
TACOMA — While the Seattle Mariners kicked off the second half of the season Friday night at Safeco Field, their star pitcher was 38 miles south, toeing the rubber at Cheney Stadium.
For a night, Felix Hernandez was a member of the Class AAA Tacoma Rainiers during a rehab start against the Colorado Springs Sky Sox in front of a crowd of 7,296.
In 52/3 innings of work, Hernandez allowed a run on five hits, striking out seven batters and allowing one walk. Three hits went for extra bases. Orlando Arcia and Keon Broxton each smacked doubles, while Sky Sox catcher Manny Pina cracked a solo home run off Hernandez in the fourth inning.
Hernandez is working his way back from a strain to his right calf — the push-off leg in his delivery — that has kept him sidelined since May 28. He is set to return to the Mariners on July 20 against the Chicago White Sox.
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“I’m ready to go,” Hernandez said.
Overall the evening went smoothly for Hernandez. He had no trouble finding the normal velocity on his fastball, causing many swings-and-misses among Sky Sox batters. Hernandez viewed his second rehab start as an improvement over his start for the Class A Everett AquaSox on July 10. In that contest — a 7-6 win over the Spokane Indians — he allowed three runs on six hits while striking out six batters and walking two.
“Better mound, better mechanics, everything (tonight) was better,” Hernandez said.
With the exception of a double down the third-base line to Arcia, Hernandez had a solid first inning. He was tested early with a comeback grounder by leadoff hitter Kyle Wren, but fielded it cleanly before tossing it to first for the out. He finished out the inning by striking out Nate Orf and Josmil Pinto.
Hernandez said he kept his focus on his mechanics while on the mound.
“Throwing a lot of strikes, that’s the key for me,” Hernandez said. “Just keeping it down in the zone and throwing a lot of strikes.”
Hernandez allowed a walk to Garin Cecchini, but a double play helped end the second inning. He allowed a base hit to Eric Young Jr. but struck out Arcia to end the third. The lone damage was in the fourth, when Pina cracked a Hernandez pitch over the wall in left field to give the Sky Sox a 1-0 lead.
After getting out of an early jam in the sixth inning, Hernandez was pulled to a loud ovation.
It was his first start at Cheney Stadium since his final minor-league start in a non-rehab role, which was July 30, 2005 against the Omaha Royals.
“I didn’t even recognize (Cheney Stadium),” Hernandez said.
“It’s way different than 11 years ago.”