After being placed on the disabled list on Aug. 5 with a recurrence of shoulder bursitis and missing roughly seven starts, Felix Hernandez returns to the mound Thursday night in Texas.
Neither this return nor that of James Paxton on Friday in Houston will be typical, as the two were not able to get rehab starts before the minor league seasons ended. Because of this they will be on short pitch counts – Felix around 50, Paxton slightly more.
Rehab assignment or no rehab assignment, physically they are ready to go.
“They both look healthy,” said pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. “You just hope they can get out there and not have to labor too much and start the building process. It’s Phase 1. With that being said, with no minor league outings usually the last pitches to come are going to be the secondary stuff.”
Hernandez realizes he needs to take things one step at a time.
“Everything feels good, looks pretty good too. The fastball has life in the bullpen,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of expectations but I just want to be back in the rotation where I can help the team win. We are fighting for a spot and I just want to contribute.”
Managing Felix and Paxton – and their expectations – in their first outings back will be a little bit of a challenge for Stottlemyre, especially considering how important they will be both for them as indiciduals and the team.
“James is a little more laid back and Felix is a little more animated on game day, but they both are very tenacious,” he said. “They both have worked extremely hard. They have to build at the major league level where it’s not so forgiving.”
Ultimately for Felix the key will be to set the foundation Thursday so he can work toward a goal.
“There are no nerves,” he said of his return. “The only difference will be the pitch count. The last two games I want to go 100.”