Felix Hernandez looks sharp in his return to the Mariners
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Back from the World Baseball Classic, Felix Hernandez put aside the emotions of pitching for his country and got back to work with the Mariners Thursday, throwing six innings of one-hit, no-run ball against the Giants and coming out of the game with some left in the tank.
“I could have gone for another inning but they wanted me to throw six,” Hernandez said in the clubhouse.
Felix covered those six innings with just 73 pitches. No walks, and perhaps most encouraging, no long 3-2 battles with hitters fouling off pitch after pitch, something that we saw often last year.
“Sometimes I am trying to be too nasty and I get into trouble at 3-2,” he acknowledged. “The pitch count will get up. Today I pitched to contact, tried to stay in the zone. (I got) soft contact, too. It was really good.”
For a second straight outing – the other being his start against Team USA in the WBC – Felix had all of his pitches working. He didn’t have the same velocity he had in the WBC, but his location was pinpoint for the most part. His curveball was good, his two-seamer was moving, and he went to his four-seamer up in the zone a couple of times, something the Mariners want to see more from him. The changeup was there, but he has not been as dependent on it in his last few outings.
“He threw the ball really well,” manager Scott Servais said after the game. “Much more on the attack mode and nice to see him use the fastball the way he did.”
The Felix that Servais saw in Scottsdale was a Felix he hopes to see opening night. Seeing the Mariners’ No. 1 utilize his pitches, get eight groundouts vs. one flyout and avoid prolonged battles at the plate with hitters in a full count was a welcome sight.
“He likes striking them out like every pitcher does, but sometimes being more efficient certainly helps out,” Servais said. “Again, I hadn’t seen him in a while; he looked really good.”
Felix has just one spring training start remaining before opening day and, as he has in the past, it will be a short outing – probably three innings, just to get the feel for his pitches.
• The Mariners beat the Giants 9-2, and while there were plenty of impressive performances, Mike Zunino’s line is the one that stood out most to me. Zunino went 1 for 2 with two walks and a strikeout. He now has more walks (a team-leading 10) than strikeouts (nine) this spring.
• James Paxton was scheduled to start Friday’s game against the Royals but he has been scratched because of a head cold, something a number of players in camp have been dealing with. The hope is he will be able to pitch Saturday. With an off day next week, the rotation order (which has not been announced) should not be affected if Paxton is pushed back a day. Hisashi Iwakuma, who had been scheduled to pitch in a minor league game Friday, will now pitch in the Major League game.
• Two big returns by relievers coming off surgeries were made before Thursday’s game. Tony Zych got into a game for the first time this spring, throwing a 1-2-3 inning against the Rangers’ Double-A team. Zych threw mostly fastballs but did mix in a couple of sliders. “He looked great,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “That was more than just encouraging. He threw 20 fastballs and I’d say 16 didn’t miss the glove.” Steve Cishek also returned to the mound for the first time since undergoing hip labrum surgery. Dipoto was thrilled by what he saw. “That’s about as good as we could hope for. Ah, that’s better than what we could hope for,” he said.