EVERETT — Suffice it to say the Spokane Indians had heard of the Everett starting pitcher for Sunday afternoon’s game.
Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, making his first rehab start as he works his way back from a right calf strain, took the mound against the Indians at Everett Memorial Stadium.
Spokane, unfazed by the well-known big-leaguer, had some success against Hernandez, with the Indians tallying six hits, two walks and three runs against the former Cy Young award winner who threw 59 pitches over 32⁄3 innings. Everett eventually won the game 7-6.
“We definitely were really excited about it,” said Spokane leadoff hitter Darius Day, who connected for a triple off Hernandez. “We knew that he was rehabbing and we’d probably see a few good pitches to hit. He had good stuff. He’s a big-leaguer for a reason.”
“It was amazing,” added Xavier Turner, who hit a pair of singles off the six-time major-league all-star. “Words can’t even explain going against a superstar like that. It was fun. It was a great opportunity.”
Spokane manager Tim Hulett, who has been the manager of the Texas Rangers farm team since 2007, said it was an exciting experience for his players to get to go up against Hernandez, who is 4-4 this season with a 2.86 earned-run average.
“For us, there’s everything to gain and nothing to lose because nothing’s expected,” Hulett said. “You’ve got a guy who’s one of the best pitchers in baseball and he’s out there getting his work in. Our guys are playing their hearts out. It’s a lot of fun.
“It’s a real treat for these guys. Hopefully, they’ll have good memories of it.”
Hernandez hadn’t pitched in a game since May 27 against Minnesota. Next up for the right-hander is another rehab assignment in Triple-A Tacoma on Friday before he rejoins the Mariners for a scheduled start on July 20 against the Chicago White Sox.
“These guys get a chance to see what it’s like to face a big-league pitcher,” Hulett said. “We come out and we try to talk to these guys about being ready to play everyday. It doesn’t matter who’s on the mound, doesn’t matter who the other team is, you have to come out and take care of business.”
How did Felix look to Hulett?
“Pretty good for this level,” he said.
The Spokane (10-14) players were excited to see how they matched up against a major league-caliber pitcher.
The goal for all of them is to one day see pitchers of Hernandez’s caliber on a regular basis.
“Our dream is to get up there right where he’s at and be able to compete,” said Day, who finished 2-for-4 with a home run, two RBI and two runs scored. “To see a guy like that come down, and be able to get some hits off him and have a couple good at-bats, definitely felt good.
“He’s one of the guys that’s at the top of his game right now. It gives us a taste of what’s at that level and what we have to do to compete at that level.”
After striking out against Hernandez in his first at bat, Day hit a triple to center field and scored on an RBI single by Blaine Prescott for the first run against Hernandez in the top of the third inning.
“I was actually kind of relaxed,” Day said. “He’s a pitcher just like everybody else and he has to throw the ball over the plate to get me out just like everybody else. Obviously, I chased a few pitches but the second at-bat I felt like I was a lot more comfortable and was able to see the ball and put a good swing on it.”
Day now has some bragging rights over a few of his teammates and fellow Northwest League compatriots.
“There’s not a lot of guys that can say they got a hit off Felix Hernandez,” Day said with a smile. “Obviously, he’s rehabbing and I don’t know if he had good stuff or not. He had a lot of strikeouts, I know that. It definitely feels good to be able to get a hit off a guy like that.”
Added Turner: “Now, I can take on anyone.”