PEORIA, Ariz. — Manager Scott Servais marked Saturday’s start of official workouts by confirming what is likely to be the least surprising news this spring from the Seattle Mariners’ camp.
Felix Hernandez will pitch the season opener April 4 at Texas.
“You can run with that if you want,” Servais said. “It’s huge. It’s everything. Everybody is always talking about the No. 1 starter. We have a legit No. 1 starter.”
The Mariners opened their 43-day spring training when the 28 pitchers and six catchers on their 58-player camp roster worked through drills at the four-diamond cloverleaf on their side of the Peoria Sports Complex.
The first full-squad workout is Feb. 25, but many of the roster’s infielders and outfielders are already in camp and took part in a voluntary session on the main practice field.
Hernandez is entering his 12th season and turns 30 on April 8. He will be making his eighth straight, and ninth overall, start on opening day. He is 6-0 with a 1.49 ERA in his previous eight.
“Are you surprised?” he asked when informed of Servais’ announcement. “It’s always fun to throw on opening day. I can’t wait to do that again.”
Starting the opener? OK, no surprise. But Hernandez showing up with blond hair and a matching goatee caught everyone off-guard.
“I’m going to keep it,” he vowed. “For the entire season. I just wanted something different. I (decided to) try to be blond. I was tired of seeing my black hair in the mirror all of the time, so I decided to be blond.”
Blond or whatever, it is perhaps telling that Servais, while pointing to Hernandez’s career achievements, also chose to address the biggest omission on the King’s otherwise sparkling resume.
“Felix has never thrown a pitch in the playoffs,” Servais said. “And it’s time. We have a lot of work to do to get there. He knows that as well. But for a player to have that kind of career and to not have pitched in the playoffs yet …
“It’s up to us to make sure we get the pieces around him. And it’s up to him to help pull a few guys along with him. It’s going to be a joint effort.”
Hernandez admitted his lack of postseason experience is something that rankles.
“It drives me crazy,” he said. “It’s been a long time. I’ve never been in the playoffs in the big leagues. I can’t wait to be there.”
At this point, though, all that matters is that Hernandez is healthy. Specifically, he refuted comments by former Mariners coach Andy Van Slyke, who claimed Hernandez has a partially torn elbow ligament.
Van Slyke said that ligament was “about 25 percent torn and has been for the last couple of years” in a November radio interview. “Every pitch he threw,” Van Slyke said, “we were like, ‘Is his elbow going to go on this pitch?’”
Hernandez said: “It’s not true. I’m fine. He said a lot of stuff that’s not true.”
Lefty reliever Charlie Furbush reported no day-after problems following a 15-pitch bullpen workout that marked his first time on a mound since mid-August session in Boston.
“It felt normal,” he said. “It felt good. They just wanted me to feel the slope out and get back on the mound. I felt good, and I’m looking forward to throwing again on Monday.”
Furbush, 29, hasn’t pitched in a game since July 7, but it was a pre-game workout at Boston that finally ended his season. He spent the winter recovering from biceps tendinitis and a slight tear in his rotator cuff.
“I just threw 15 fastballs to get a feel for it,” he said. “I’ll be up to 25 (pitches) on Monday and start mixing in other pitches, too. But I’m feeling nothing. I have no restrictions and no pain. It felt good that everything is still working.”
Furbush had a 2.08 ERA in 33 appearances last season prior to his injury and, if healthy, projects as the bullpen’s primary left-handed setup reliever.
It appears former swingman Vidal Nuno will be able to concentrate this spring solely on winning a job in the bullpen.
“I think he comes into this camp as a reliever,” Servais said. “We know what he can do as a starter, but his numbers against left-handed hitters have been really good. We’re trying to put guys in a position for them to succeed.”
Nuno, 28, posted a 1.91 ERA last season in 25 relief appearances after arriving from Arizona in a June 3 trade. In contrast, he was 1-4 with a 5.08 ERA in 10 starts.
Overall, he limited left-handed batters to a .215/.258/.304 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) slash in 89 plate appearances. Right-handed batters fared far better: .279/.329/.508.
“He can get through an entire lineup,” Servais said, “but facing left-handers has really been his strength.”