Nothing wrong with Felix that a better strike zone won’t fix

Umpire Dan Bellino was back behind the plate for today’s split-squad game between the Mariners and Indians (a 3-1 Indians victory), which made us all pay extra-close attention when Milton Bradley batted.

Bellino is the ump who kicked Bradley out of a game last week, thinking the Mariners’ left fielder had tried to show him up by dropping his bat and starting to take off his gloves after a called third strike.

Bradley had no apparent issues this time, flying out twice and walking once (and then trying to pile-drive Cleveland catcher Lou Marson on a collision at the plate. More on that later).

Felix Hernandez is the guy who could have pitched a few fits with Bellino’s strike zone, but he stayed calm and pitched effectively for five innings. Hernandez gave up three hits and one earned run, but he walked four in his last two innings, although the Mariners somewhat quietly begged to differ with Bellino’s calls.

Pitching coach Rick Adair said at least two of the walks probably shouldn’t have been.

“His sinker was moving a lot and there were some borderline pitches, plus his breaking ball was on the plate and the umpire had a little bit lower zone today,” Adair said. “He threw some quality strikes that weren’t called.”

Bottom line for Hernandez is that he seems all but ready to start the season. He threw 88 pitches today, 48 for strikes.

“The ball is coming out of his hand as good as it was when he was on a roll last year,” Adair said.

That’s the best thing we’ve heard about the starting rotation since Cliff Lee had rock-hard abs.

Hernandez has one more start before he pitches the season opener April 5 at Oakland although, wouldn’t you know, even his last spring outing comes with some intrigue.

His regular turn would be Tuesday, but the Mariners are off that day. So the Mariners 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.

One thing to consider is that Felix will pitch against the Rangers in the sixth game of the season on April 10, so the Mariners could choose to avoid having hiim face them on Wednesday. Adair said he, Hernandez and manager Don Wakamatsu would talk about it today.

OK, about today’ Milton Bradley Moment.

All was quiet with him until the fifth inning, when he drew a one-out walk and took advantage of pitcher Joe Smith’s deliberate move to the plate and stole both second and third.

Ryan Garko then hit a chopper toward third base. Bradley hesitated for a moment, then bolted toward the plate as third baseman Jhonny Peralta fielded the ball. Peralta threw to catcher Lou Marson, who had the ball with Bradley still about 10 feet away. Bradley lowered his shoulder and delivered a huge hit, sending Marson tumbling. The catcher held onto the ball for the out and there were some non-complimentary words directed at Bradley from the stands.

Bradley does have a “history” with the Indians, having played there from 2001-2003 before he ran afowl with the club in spring training and was traded to the Dodgers just before the 2004 season (for a package that included Franklin Gutierrez going to the Indians).

We couldn’t tell from the press box if there were any crossways looks from the Cleveland dugout. Smith, the Indians pitcher, did buzz the kneecaps of the Mariners’ next hitter, Tommy Everidge, with the first pitch but there was no indication that it was anything more than pushing a hitter off the plate a little.

After the game, Indians manager Manny Acta said he saw “no malice” in Bradley’s collision and called it a sound baseball play.

That’s how the Mariners saw it, too, that Bradley is an all-out kind of player and it doesn’t matter that it’s spring training.

“It was outstanding to see him steal two bases,” said bench coach Ty VanBurkleo, who ran the team while manager Don Wakamatsu handled the other split-squad game against the Royals “He said his legs are feeling great. Milton plays hard. He looked good.”

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