Hernandez's first full day as a reliever was pretty typical. The Mariners are expected to start Erasmo Ramirez on Sunday in his spot in the rotation.
HOUSTON — Felix Hernandez’s first full day as a member of the Mariners’ bullpen was one of acceptance and adjustment.
He played early catch with the other relievers before the on-field workout Friday and then hung out with several other relievers in the corner of the visitors’ clubhouse. Later, he shagged balls in the outfield with the rest of the pitchers.
Informed before the game Thursday he was being removed from the starting rotation and demoted to the bullpen, Hernandez had little time to really process everything that was happening. Seattle manager Scott Servais understood that and was going to give Hernandez a day to just reset in the dugout.
But Hernandez decided to start his new role immediately, going to the bullpen with closer Edwin Diaz after the third inning in the 8-6 victory Thursday and staying there for entire game. It’s what tipped people off that the decision had been made.
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“He wasn’t going to pitch last night,” Servais said. “That was more his call. When I talked to him yesterday, it’s certainly hard to deliver those messages. He was not crazy about hearing the news. I wanted to give him a day to let it soak in and see where’s he at with it. I don’t want to read too much into it. We’ll see how it plays out. But the ball is in his court, hopefully he can help us when he gets a chance to get in there.”
That chance isn’t going to be as an eighth-inning set-up man or even in middle relief. Right now, Hernandez will serve as the long reliever.
“You gotta find the right spots to use him,” Servais said. “I don’t anticipate bringing him in the middle of an inning. We’ve got to give him time to warm up and make sure he’s loose and ready to go into a game. Certainly a starter’s warmup period is different than a reliever. He’s used to getting out there and throwing long toss and then throwing 30 to 35 pitches some days before he walks into a game. So we’ll try to give him time to get loose and pick the right spots. I don’t have it all mapped out. It’s not like he’s going to plug in there and go get two guys in the seventh inning tonight. Certainly, he can throw multiple innings and give you some length and that’s how we’ll look to use him.”
With Hernandez having pitched Tuesday, Servais will try to ease him into the role.
“We have other guys available here tonight that could go into that role,” he said before the game Friday. “But you know we could be in extra innings, and why not? Fire him out there.”
As for Hernandez’s replacement for the start Sunday, Servais said they’ve made a decision but won’t announce it until Saturday. But sources indicate they might go to Erasmo Ramirez to make the start. Ramirez was scheduled to make a fourth rehab start after dealing with some mechanical issues in his previous outing, but the Mariners are expected to activate him from the disabled list instead and use him.
“Whoever we put in that spot, we aren’t looking for them to go out there and give us seven innings of shutout ball,” he said. “We need them to get 12 to 15 outs and then go from there.”
Mariners’ Class AA affiliate will remain in Little Rock
The Mariners announced an extension of their player development contract with the Arkansas Travelers — their Class AA affiliate in the Texas League. The contract, which was set to expire at the end of the season, was extended to cover the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Seattle has been with Arkansas the past two seasons.
“The Mariners are excited to be able to extend our relationship with the Travelers,” Andy McKay, the Mariners director of player development, said in a statement. “The Mariners have a commitment to a strong minor-league system, and value the best possible environment for our prospects to develop. We have that environment with the Arkansas Travelers and look forward to making it even better.”
The Travelers won the Texas League North’s first-half division title, earning a postseason berth. As the first-half North Division champions, they will play host to the opening two games of the division series at Dickey-Stephens Park on Sept. 5-6 against the second-half champion or the team in the division with the next best overall record.
“We are extremely pleased to extend our Player Development Contract with the Seattle Mariners for two seasons through 2020,” Travelers president Russ Meeks said in a statement. “The Mariners are a first-class organization with wonderful leadership. Jerry Dipoto and Andy McKay have ensured we have a quality product on the field and outstanding people off the field and in the community.”