By Shannon Drayer
Felix Hernandez quietly went about his business of getting ready for the season on Field 3 Sunday in Peoria while Blake Beavan served notice that he’s in the competition for a rotation spot in the main stadium.
Beavan worked his way up to 61 pitches, surrendering one run on three hits while walking none and striking out two over six innings. Felix threw 62 pitches over four innings, allowing one run on three hits while striking out six. Both pitchers threw to minor-league hitters – Felix to the High-A team from Cincinnati and Beavan to the alleged Rangers, whose lineup had a grand total of one player that could be considered a regular.
At least 25 Mariners minor leaguers converged on and around the riser behind home plate of Field 3 to watch Felix pitch, not an uncommon sight when he pitches on a lower field. After the outing he said he was a little off in the first inning but he was being hard on himself. That inning he threw 21 pitches, 14 for strikes. He hit a batter on an 0-2 fastball and that run scored on a double to right, but Felix settled down quickly and struck out two to get out of the inning.
As I have mentioned before, Felix has been very interesting to watch work this spring. He has definite ideas in what he wants to accomplish in each outing. On Sunday he was working on mixing his pitches and when he would get to two strikes I would often see him shake catcher Mike Zunino off.
“They know now I am going to use my changeup a lot with two strikes,” Felix said about what he wanted to do in that situation. “The breaking ball is pretty good now. I will use it a lot.”
Felix has had all of his pitches from the get-go this spring. Sitting directly behind home plate I could see the movement and there were times I couldn’t help but laugh when the hitters got locked up. I wasn’t the only one laughing. The curve was dropping further than I would have expected it to. Same went for the hitters who no doubt didn’t think it could possibly fall in for a strike. The sinker was sharp, the changeup silly and the slider surprisingly good.
This is a pitch Felix has had trouble with in some springs and as a result stayed away from during the season. This year could be a different story.
“Slider is way better. Way better,” he said. “It is getting better and better, I feel pretty good about that pitch.”
Felix was throwing to Zunino for the first time in a game and liked what he saw from the young catcher.
“He’s pretty good, pretty smart. He caught the ball pretty good, good rhythm. He’s going to be good,” he said.
Interesting that he talked about the catcher’s rhythm. That is not something I have heard from a pitcher very often. When I asked Zunino what it was like to catch Felix in a game situation as opposed to a bullpen, the number one topic was tempo.
“You have to remind him to slow down sometimes,” he said. “He gets his adrenaline pumping and he just wants to go, go, go, and sometimes you have to slow the tempo down for him. But when he gets into that groove and throws everything for strikes it’s a lot of fun to catch because it’s easy to the point of he hits his spots like nobody else. It’s so fun. My goal is to keep him in his gear as long as I can. Either tell him to pick up the tempo or turn it down a little bit.”
Zunino clearly enjoyed the experience of catching Felix.
“You think of the best pitch you have ever seen and go from there,” he said of his four innings.
Felix’s day was done about 40 minutes before Beavan’s. I was able to catch an inning of Beavan’s and from what I saw and heard from others he looked much more comfortable with his new delivery. Eric Wedge was pleased with what he saw.
“He had a great focus today, that’s what he does when he is at his best,” Wedge said. “I was really impressed how he spotted up his fastball, the secondary stuff worked off that well. It was a good day for Blake.”
It was a good day to put up that performance. While Beavan’s numbers have been decent, that is not necessarily what they are looking from him this spring. Spotting his fastball is absolutely crucial to him as he doesn’t have a pitch that is going to blow anyone away. Ability to command the fastball is his best weapon.
This is the time of spring you want to hear things from the skipper like you had a good day. With Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer, Jon Garland and Jeremy Bonderman competing for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation there is little room for error from here on out.
Dustin Ackley hit eighth Sunday and after the game Wedge said that we could see that during the regular season: “I want to be a complete lineup this year. There’s a chance that’s where he is going to hit as we put this thing together.”
Franklin Gutierrez went 0-2 in his return after missing over a week with leg stiffness.
Ackley, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, Justin Smoak, Jason Bay and Robert Andino all played nine innings Sunday.
Ibanez and Morales homered, bringing the Mariners’ spring total to 43, still best in baseball. The nearest club is the Cubs with 34. The M’s are eight home runs shy of their spring record of 51 and have 11 games to break that.
Hisashi Iwakuma will start Monday against the A’s in Phoenix. Maurer gets the Tuesday night start against the Giants in Peoria. Joe Saunders will pitch in a minor-league game that day.
Felix bought lunch for the clubhouse on Sunday – Dillon’s barbeque. Don’t tell the minor leaguers but he is getting them lunch Tuesday. Famous Dave’s.