By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jon Garland walked around the mound for a few moments before his first pitch.
The circle of dirt at Scottsdale Stadium was no different than any of the others that he had pitched from in his previous 12 big league seasons, a place where he has found comfort and success as a starting pitcher. It is home.
But on Thursday, in those few moments before Garland’s first appearance in more than a year, the situation felt surreal to the veteran right-hander.
“It was definitely a little weird,” he said. “I haven’t been out there for so long with umpires out there and in uniform and throwing to guys like that. I’ve thrown in bullpens, I’ve thrown on the back field, but until you get in that game situation and you get your blood going, you really don’t know how you are going to feel.”
Garland’s blood was certainly going before the game.
“There definitely was some adrenaline,” he said. “I’d imagine if it was regular season there would be a lot more. There was definitely more adrenaline than I’ve felt in a while.”
It’s understandable considering the last time he pitched in a game was June 1, 2011.
After that start, Garland battled pain his throwing shoulder and subsequently had surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff damage. While he questioned whether he would pitch again, he rehabbed the injury then tried to come back with the Cleveland Indians. He suffered a setback, questioned his future again but continued to rehab, then signed a minor league contract with the Mariners and worked his way up to Thursday.
After all of that, it’s understandable that Garland felt strange as he took the mound — perhaps he felt a little vindicated, too.
After that first pitch to Giants leadoff hitter Angel Pagan, the weirdness dissipated.
“It felt really good,” Garland said. “To a certain extent, it felt normal. It felt like that’s where I should be and where I belong.”
Facing a lineup similar to what the Giants will likely field on opening day, Garland worked his one inning without incident. He got two ground-ball outs from Pagan and Marco Scutaro before his command got away a little and he walked Pablo Sandoval.
It appeared he would get out of the inning when the next batter, Buster Posey, hit a ground ball back up the middle. It wasn’t hit hard, and Garland put his glove down but didn’t come up with it. It left him staring at the leather on his left hand.
“I should have had it,” he said. “I take pride in fielding my position. I’m not Felix (Hernandez) and I’m not going to go out and strike out 10 guys a game.
“If you are going to hit a ball back at me, I need that out. Especially in that situation. Now there are two guys on with two outs and it could have led to something bigger.”
Garland got Hunter Pence to ground softly back to the mound. This time, Garland gloved the ball and tossed it to first for the easy out — his one inning of work complete.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge was happy.
“I thought Jon threw the ball well, especially since he hasn’t been out there in a while,” Wedge said. “He was down. He used his pitches. It was a good first outing.”
Garland’s goals were simple.
“Number one, I wanted to come out of it healthy,” he said. “Number 2, I wanted to keep the ball down. Regardless if they made outs, they got hits, they hit homers, I wanted to keep the ball down and feel good about the pitches I was throwing.”
Felix throws BP
Hernandez is making slow steps toward pitching in a Cactus League game. With the spring training season longer than usual because of the World Baseball Classic, the Mariners are in no hurry to rush Hernandez, who missed a few days of workouts to sign his new seven-year, $175 million contract.
On Thursday, the progression continued with Hernandez throwing a live batting practice session.
Hernandez pitched for 10 minutes, throwing 32 pitches to four minor leaguers — James Jones, Ji-Man Choi, Mike Dowd and Gabriel Guerrero. Hernandez gave up two soft singles, but mostly induced swings and misses.
“Definitely had good arm speed, good pitches,” he said afterward. “I feel pretty good. I’m happy about it.”
Wedge was also quite happy.
“Felix threw the ball great,” he said. “In regard to what we were hoping to see, and what he looked like, it was fantastic. A lot of life, good arm action, good command, it was strong.”
Hernandez will throw one more batting practice session in three or four days and make his Cactus League debut sometime late next week.