By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Let’s start with the obvious disclaimer. It was a two-inning Cactus League debut Tuesday for a former Cy Young winner who is a four-time All-Star and, undeniably, one of the game’s top pitchers.
It was nice for the Seattle Mariners, who already expect to open the season with Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker on the disabled list, to watch Felix
Hernandez work two scoreless innings in a 4-1 victory over the Dodgers.
“He showed his poise,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He didn’t rush anything (with runners on base). He just continued to make his pitches. That’s what veteran guys do. They continue to make pitches.”
Not that Hernandez was particularly pleased.
“I’m OK,” he said. “Not too happy. But I’m OK. … Physically, it was good. My arm feels good. My changeup, that wasn’t working. I threw it a lot of times, and it was garbage. It was bad.”
It didn’t start well.
Yaisiel Puig rocked Hernandez’s first pitch into the left-center gap for a double, and Carl Crawford followed by drawing a four-pitch walk.
All of that, though, Hernandez found easy to shake off.
“The first one,” he said, “I was going to throw a fastball anyway. That was a good swing (by Puig).”
And the walk?
“I was going to walk (Crawford) anyway,” Hernandez said, “because I wanted (to set up) the double play. That was on purpose.”
Then it turned out perfect.
Hernandez jumped ahead 0-2 on Hanley Ramirez before the count ran full — and then, on cue, Ramirez rapped a routine grounder to short that Brad Miller and second baseman Ketel Marte turned into a double play.
Puig went to third but got no farther when Hernandez struck out Andre Ethier. First-inning count: 16 pitches, nine strikes.
Hernandez stranded another runner at third in the second inning after yielding a one-out single to Juan Uribe, who moved to second on a wild pitch. Two infield grounders ended the inning.
Final count: Hernandez threw 29 pitches, 16 for strikes. He allowed two hits, while striking out one and walking one. He also admitted he started to bear down a bit with runners on base.
“Always going to be like that,” he said. “Always going to try to get them out without scoring any runs. That’s what I did.”
The Mariners, now 6-1, positioned Hernandez for the victory by scoring three runs in the third inning. Hector Noesi and five relievers limited the Dodgers to one run and three hits over the final seven innings.
Ask Hernandez about the Mariners’ evolving rotation, and he chooses to parry: “Well, I have to see who the rotation is, and then I’ll talk about it. I think I’m in there. I don’t know.”
That’s one rotation question the Mariners don’t have to answer; McClendon has already tapped Hernandez as the starter for the March 31 opener against the Angels in Anaheim.
Hernandez’s next two spring starts are already marked out: Sunday against division-rival Texas at Peoria Stadium, and March 14 against a Colorado split-squad at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale.
Maybe the changeup will be better.
Walker is scheduled to resume throwing Thursday — i.e., playing catch — to gauge his recovery from a sore shoulder.
The Mariners shut down Walker from all throwing activities for one week last Friday after an examination the previous day in Los Angeles confirmed inflammation in the bursa of his shoulder.
Plans call for Walker to take the normal progression in what tentatively projects as a three-week program to build up his arm: playing catch, long-toss sessions, bullpen workouts, etc.
Barring setbacks, Walker could rejoin the rotation in mid-April.