Mariners’ Felix Hernandez ready and excited to pitch for Venezuela in World Baseball Classic
PEORIA, Ariz. – With his second Cactus League game behind him, Felix Hernandez can now hit the road for the World Baseball Classic. The detour on the way to opening day is now upon him – and the Mariners.
While manager Scott Servais has touted the tournament’s value in terms of getting Felix up to full speed earlier, and despite Felix showing perhaps more focus than in years past, it is still tough for Servais to let his No. 1 starter go.
“With Felix and where he is at right now, he’s in a little bit different spot than I think he has ever been in before – being challenged a little bit more – and he wants to bounce back and have a big year for us,” Servais said Sunday following the Mariners’ 5-4 split-squad loss to the A’s. “I think the WBC, although he is competitive, the way we look at it is: Get your 60-65 pitches and come on back. That’s kind of what I’m hoping for. We have got a big year ahead of us and we are certainly going to need him.”
Felix did his part to accelerate his offseason routine and changed his workout to be ready for the more competitive WBC atmosphere. Just two games into the spring and the 12-year veteran feels confident he has all of his pitches and is ready to throw the 65 pitches allowed in the first round of the tournament.
“It was good, man,” Felix said of his 50-pitch outing Sunday. “First inning was a little rough, but after that I was fine. Last inning was really good.”
Felix sat at 90-91 mph with the fastball and mixed in all of his pitches. With Felix nearing his pitch count after two innings, Servais allowed him to go back out for a third, but only for nine pitches. He only needed eight to get three outs.
So now it is on to Surprise, Ariz. for three days to join the Venezuelan team, which will leave for Jalisco, Mexico. The team will start Round 1 with a game against Puerto Rico on March 10. It is a day Felix has been looking forward to since being unable to play for his country in the 2013 Classic.
“It’s an honor to be representing Venezuela,” he said. “The situation there now isn’t real good, and we just want to win for our country and make people happy there. It’s huge there. The fans have been waiting for a long time.”
Felix said that he is committed to the work he has put in both before and after arriving in Peoria. To that end, he checked out the weight room in Surprise to ensure he could continue his routine. Felix said he talked with good friend and Team Venezuela catcher Salvador Perez of the Royals about how he wanted to pitch.
“He says he’s not going to call any fastballs,” Felix said with a laugh. “I told him he had to.”
The Mariners would like to see Felix use his four-seamer more and he has shown a willingness to try it in spring training.
“I have to use my four-seamers and it feels like it is working good,” he said. “If it is good for results I will keep throwing it. So far so good.”
The spring work will continue away from the Mariners but the experience of pitching for his country should be nothing like what he would get in Peoria.
“It’s going to be fun, a fun tournament,” he said. “We have a chance to be together in Miami; I’m really excited to be a part of that.”