By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — While the uncertainty over the Seattle Mariners’ starting rotation swirls behind him, ace right-hander Felix Hernandez made his next-to-last tuneup for opening day with five quality innings Thursday.
Hernandez gave up three hits and one earned run in the Mariners’ 3-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians.
Pitching coach Rick Adair was so impressed with the quality of Hernandez’s 88-pitch performance that he likened it to the stretch of games last year when he went 15-2 with a 1.98 ERA from May 24 to the end of the season.
“The ball is coming out of his hand as good as it was when he was on a roll last year,” Adair said.
Hernandez walked four, all in the last two innings he pitched, but neither he nor Adair was concerned. Plate umpire Dan Bellino had a tight strike zone that didn’t help Hernandez on some borderline pitches, Adair said.
“It was just a day when he had probably 10 or 12 (pitches) that didn’t go his way and ran his pitch count up,” Adair said. “But the quality of stuff and rhythm and tempo, everything was good.”
Hernandez said he feels ready to start the season and, in fact, was too strong in Thursday’s outing and his pitches had more movement than usual.
“I was probably too strong, but all my pitches were there,” he said. “My sinker was moving too much. My breaking ball was good, slider was good.”
Hernandez has pitched only 122/3 innings this month, part of a carefully constructed plan to limit his workload after he pitched 2382/3 innings last season. Adair said it couldn’t have worked out better for the Mariners’ ace.
“When he came into spring training, he was in good shape,” Adair said. “But (nearly) 240 innings last year was a concern. He’s responded well and he’s throwing the ball well.”
Hernandez hasn’t officially been named the opening-day starter, but there’s no question that he’ll get the ball April 5 at Oakland.
He has been on an every-fifth-day schedule leading to opening day, although the Mariners must decide when and where he’ll make his final spring training start next week.
His regular turn would be Tuesday but the Mariners are off that day. So they must decide whether to have him pitch in a minor league game Tuesday (and have him face the A’s in the opener with an extra day of rest), or have him wait a day and pitch Wednesday against the Rangers, then open the season April 5 on normal rest.
One thing to consider is that Hernandez will pitch against the Rangers in the sixth game of the season on April 10, so the Mariners could choose to avoid having him face them on Wednesday.
Adair, Hernandez and manager Don Wakamatsu plan to talk about it today.