Mariners notes: Hernandez battling stiff back

CHICAGO — Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez didn’t take the field with teammates for their pregame stretch and batting practice Saturday, instead staying in the training room to have his stiff back treated.

“We limited Felix’s activities today,” manager Eric Wedge said. “Right now, we don’t have any concern about his next start. When we took him out last night, he wanted to keep going.”

In the second inning of a five-inning start Friday, Hernandez slipped on the mound while delivering a pitch and felt his back stiffen. Between innings, trainer Rick Griffin monitored his back the rest of the night.

If the back is no major concern, Hernandez’s recent issues with command of his fastball worry him, and pitching coach Carl Willis spent much of his morning reviewing video of his right-hander.

“There are couple little mechanical things we’ve talked about,” Willis said. “All pitchers have pitches flatten out from time to time. Felix needs to focus on his arm angle a little more at times, and he will.

“If you think fans have high expectations for him, I can promise you his are even higher for himself.”

Wedge said Hernandez is far tougher on himself than a manager or pitching coach would be.

“He’s been unhappy with himself at times this season, and the truth is no one can always be great,” Wedge said. “Felix is a great self-examiner. We want players to take responsibility, but sometimes he takes too much on himself.

“Everything stems from his fastball, and when he’s pitching on a downward plane, everything is at the knees. When he struggles, he falls behind hitters and creates issues for himself. Pitchers don’t adjust game to game, sometimes they have to adjust pitch to pitch.”

Disappointed as Hernandez has been with himself, his record is 4-4, his earned run average 3.42 and he’s held opposing hitters to a .251 average. In a team-high 812/3 innings, he’s allowed nine home runs, walked 26 batters and struck out 81.

Gutierrez on rehab

Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez began his 20-day rehab assignment with Tacoma on Saturday, with the Mariners monitoring from a distance.

“The clock has started ticking,” Wedge said. “He’s going to DH and play in the field. He hasn’t competed at a high level since last season, so it’s going to take time.

“It may not take the full 20 days, but it might. We’ll just have to be patient and hope there are no setbacks.”

Short hops

When the Mariners led off the first (Icihro), second (Justin Smoak) and third inning (Ichiro) with a home run, it marked the first time in franchise history it had been done. … Seattle is now 3-2 in extra-inning games this season. … Five games into this trip, Michael Saunders is batting .458 with two doubles and a home run.

On tap

Seattle plays Chicago in an 11:10 (PDT) game that will be televised on ROOT. Probable starting pitchers: Kevin Millwood (3-4, 3.56) vs. Chris Sale (6-2, 2.34).

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