Mariners manager Scott Servais sent his strongest hint yet on Wednesday that Felix Hernandez will start on Opening Day on March 29.
PEORIA, Ariz — The opening-day start — and all the history that would come with it — is there for Felix Hernandez to take.
Two days after Hernandez got back on the mound for the first time since Feb. 26, Mariners manager Scott Servais said Wednesday that if Hernandez shows enough in his next start on Saturday he will get the nod for opening day on March 29 against Cleveland.
“If it goes well,” Servais said. “We’ll see. We still haven’t made a decision on it yet. It really depends on where he’s at and how he comes out of it. If he does need one more (rehab start), we’ll give him one more. But we want to give him every opportunity to make the opening-day start if it’s good and he’s able to hit the benchmarks we have out there. So we’ll see what happens on Saturday.”
With Hernandez slated to start Saturday, that puts him in line to then start the following Thursday against the Indians.
James Paxton, the other contender for the opening-day spot, is scheduled to start Sunday against San Diego. How well Hernandez pitches Saturday and the confidence the team has in him to make the opening-day start will likely dictate how much Paxton will throw against the Padres. If there’s any doubt the team will need to keep him fresh enough to pitch again on opening day, then he won’t go long against San Diego.
“We’ll see how Felix comes out of it,” Servais said. “We could cut it a little short with Paxton if we want to, but we feel good about where Felix is. I think he’s looking forward to pitching against the Cubs again, so we’ll see how that works out.”
Hernandez was shelved after being being struck in the upper part of his right forearm in his first Cactus League start on Feb. 26 vs. the Cubs.
He finally returned on Monday to throw 38 pitches against minor league players and afterward pronounced himself good to go.
“Physically I’m fine and I’m happy to be back on the mound,” he said Monday. “I’ll be back on the mound five days later.”
Servais said Hernandez will have to show enough for the team to feel confident he could at least throw 75-80 pitches or so against the Indians.
“Five really good innings and turn it over to the bullpen,” Servais said. “We’ll see.”
If Hernandez gets through Saturday, then one of the larger questions remaining in Mariners camp will be answered.
What it also will mean is the various streaks at play in Hernandez’s opening-day history will remain alive.
Hernandez has started every opening day since 2007, except in 2008 when the just-acquired Erik Bedard got the nod instead.
When Hernandez made his 10th opening day start last season it made him just one of nine pitchers in Major League history to start nine or more straight opening days with one team.
An 11th opening-day start would move Hernandez into the top 10 in Major League history for most by a pitcher with 11, tying him with Ferguson Jenkins, Dennis Martinez and CC Sabathia.
Hernandez would have to go a ways to get to the top — Tom Seaver holds the record with 16. Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Walter Johnson and Jack Morris are tied for second with 14.
But if Hernandez has been around a long time, he also turns just 32 on April 8, meaning time could still be on his side to keep moving up the list.
Servais also is still waiting to be able to see his complete opening-day lineup on the field.
Robinson Cano, who has not played since March 11 with a hamstring strained, was the DH Wednesday night against the Brewers.
“I’m hoping Robby gets through tonight and can play second base tomorrow,” Servais said.
With Cano DHing, Nelson Cruz is getting another night off but Servais said “he will probably be in there tomorrow.” Cruz has been out since March 13 with a quad injury.
“He feels okay but we’ll give him another day,” Servais said.
Ichiro, meanwhile, also returns to the lineup Wednesday after missing a week with a sore calf, batting ninth and in left field and was scheduled to get “a couple at-bats.”
But given the way this camp has gone for the Mariners, it probably makes sense that as some return, another regular is dealing with an injury — shortstop Jean Segura.
Servais said Segura is continuing to deal with a sprained thumb suffered Saturday.
“On the pop-up the other day at the end of Marco Gonzales’ game, he kind of had a tough one in the sun and caught it off balance and went to break his fall, put his hand down,” Servais said. “So he’s a little sore. He’ll be out taking ground balls and will throw. We’ll just give him a day or two to let that calm down. Hopefully he’ll be okay here by the weekend.”