By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — Felix Hernandez’s return to the Mariners’ spring training complex on Friday wasn’t quite as grand and epic as his return to Safeco Field on Wednesday.
There were no flashbulbs and clicks from photographers, and no staffers in yellow King’s Court t-shirts chanting “K! K! K! K!”
Instead, Hernandez wandered quietly into a mostly empty clubhouse at 6:30 a.m., a few sleepy-eyed teammates the only people there to greet him.
“He beat me here,” Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis said. “I think that’s the first time that’s happened.”
When the rest of his teammates showed up, a few joked about Hernandez giving out loans.
“They are great guys,” Hernandez said.
None of the players had ribbed him about his waterfall of tears during the press conference — yet.
“Probably the Latin guys mostly will,” he said.
But Hernandez wasn’t ashamed about the crying. It was emotional overload signing a seven-year, $175 million contract Wednesday that made him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball.
“It was hard not to cry,” he said. “After coming out of the elevator and then all the people there, then to see my wife crying, it was hard for me.”
It was a great experience, but Hernandez admitted that everything is simpler now that the contract is completed.
“It’s not on my mind anymore,” he said. “I can just focus on baseball. I just have to go out there and do my best.”
Hernandez’s first full workout was about half of what the rest of his teammates had to do for the day. He was allowed to miss morning conditioning. He played catch, including long toss. He took some pitchers’ fielding practice and had a workout in the weight room.
It wasn’t royal treatment, just the Mariners trying to ease their ace back into spring training.
Because of contract negotiations and the trip to Seattle for the press conference and other commitments, it forced Hernandez to miss the first few days of workouts.
“It was a tough week,” Hernandez said. “But finally we got this thing done and it’s time to play baseball.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge wasn’t too concerned about the time missed.
“We’ll give him some time just to play catch and get his legs underneath him, then we’ll get him back on the mound and go from there,” Wedge said. “We were going to slow-play him anyway. Obviously he’s been running around the last week, so we want to give him a couple days to get re-acclimated and play some catch, then we’ll get him back off the mound throwing some bullpens and go from there.”
There’s no rush this year: Hernandez isn’t playing in the World Baseball Classic and the Mariners aren’t going to Japan to start the season early. Hernandez won’t throw his first bullpen session until the middle of next week.
“This year we’ve got plenty of time,” Willis said. “We’ll build him up accordingly.”
Despite the new record contract, Hernandez is basically the same person — a guy who couldn’t fight back his emotions when he committed to the team, the fans and city for the next seven years.
“I’ve always been responsible with this team because of the way they’ve treated me,” he said. “Nothing is going to change. I’m going to be the same guy I was before.
“It’s coming from my heart. The city of Seattle and all the fans have been great. I love that place. I live there and I love it.”
So what does he need to do now?
“Whatever they ask me to do, I will do it,” he said.
Reliever Jhonny Nunez, who had visa issues coming out of his native Dominican Republic, was supposed to arrive Friday evening. Catcher Ronny Paulino, who is having visa issues in the same country, won’t arrive till Sunday or Monday. … The Mariners’ first full workout with position players is today. Wedge usually delivers a brief speech to the players for the official start of camp. It’s not something he plans or scripts out. But he knows what he wants to say. “It’s different every year,” he said. “It should be different every year. The principles don’t change, but the message does because we’re in a different situation.” … Veteran free agent pitchers Jon Garland and Jeremy Bonderman threw bullpen sessions on Friday and caught the eyes of Willis and Wedge. “They both looked good today,” Wedge said. “They’re both very ready to pitch. They came in here ready to go and I think that was evident with what you saw today in the bullpens.” … The Mariners confirmed that third-base prospect Francisco Martinez, who was acquired in the Doug Fister trade, will work almost exclusively in center field this spring. Martinez, 23, hit .227 (80 for 352) with 16 doubles and 27 stolen bases for Class AA Jackson.