It was Hernandez's first time back on the mound since being struck by a line drive on February 26.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Well, at least this time there was no chance of a hitter sending a rocket back at him. Kidding aside, Felix Hernandez and the Mariners needed Tuesday to go without hiccups, hangups or even hangnails for the sake of their injury-plagued starting rotation.
For the first time since taking a line drive off his right upper forearm on Feb. 26 against the Cubs, Felix Hernandez stepped back on a pitcher’s mound. With a black compression sleeve covering forearm and bicep, Hernandez threw more than 20 pitches with an intensity and focus that was atypical of him at this point in spring. He was more game-like in his demeanor.
“Oh yeah, I wanted to get good work in on this one,” he said. “And it feels good.”
Hernandez kept his overall effort level on his pitches controlled.
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“It wasn’t 100 percent, but pretty good effort,” he said. “I feel fine. Bottom line, it feels really good. Everything was fine when I was throwing and I pounded the zone. Zero pain.”
Hernandez felt so good that he even worked his curveball and changeup. The initial plan was for it to be all fastballs.
“I’m told them, ‘I have to throw my curveball, I have to throw my curveball,'” he said. “I threw a few curveballs and a few changeups. No problems. I was going to throw a slider, but they wouldn’t let me throw sliders.”
So what’s next for Hernandez?
“I don’t know,” he said. “They want to see how I feel tomorrow. Then maybe two days and another bullpen and then back into games.”
If he was able to follow that schedule, Hernandez could return to game action on either Saturday or Sunday. If it were on Saturday, he would be lined up to make three starts before the team leaves for Seattle and opening day. But making three starts would also not let him start on opening day, something he still craves. He noted that past throwing schedules for spring training put him at making his first game appearance around this time.
“I’m telling you, man,” he said. “I’ll be ready. I’ve done this before on purpose. I can do it like this. I only need a few games and I’ll be fine.”
Servais was asked about naming an opening day starter again on Tuesday. He said he’s still mulling over the decision. But it seems as though James Paxton, as long as he remains healthy, would be the logical choice with Hernandez’s status still uncertain. The Mariners could take advantage of the odd Friday offday after opening day and start Mike Leake on Saturday night and Hernandez on Sunday in the series finale vs. the Indians.
“I’m not discarding it at all or saying he is not going to be ready,” Servais said of opening day. “We’ll see how the bullpen goes and get him in a game again and go from there. He’s had only had one outing. I don’t want to get him in a big league game and only be able to throw 50 or 60 pitches. He needs to throw 75 or 80.”