SHANNON DRAYER

‘I’m back’: Felix puts on a show in bullpen at Mariners spring training

Mar 16, 2018, 5:47 PM | Updated: 5:49 pm
Felix Hernandez impressed Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre with his bullpen. (AP)...
Felix Hernandez impressed Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre with his bullpen. (AP)
(AP)

PEORIA, Ariz. – Felix Hernandez put on a show worthy of one of his starts Friday afternoon at the Mariners spring training complex. He was loud, he was demonstrative, he wore what I assume to be his finest jewelry – all for a bullpen session that should mark the end of his rehab work for being hit by a line drive near his right elbow on Feb. 26.

It was a good day for Felix, who received applause from the fans on-hand after he threw his final pitch of the session.

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“I’m good,” he said as he walked by the media following the throwing session, indicating there was nothing more to be said.

But there was. As he walked by the minor leaguers in the outdoor workout area, he shouted, “I’m back!”

After seeing the 38-pitch bullpen session, Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. believes Felix indeed is back.

“He was outstanding,” Stottlemyre said. “He ramped it up, he got after it at the end. He spun the ball, he made great one-pitch adjustments, but the most important thing is at the end of his delivery the ball was coming out of the hand the way we needed to see it. I’m convinced he is ready to go into a game.”

Felix threw his complete arsenal in the bullpen session, and when his final assigned pitch was not thrown to his satisfaction, he threw three more. For all of the bluster leading up to the session, for all of the show he likes to put on, Felix was working. He knows the clock is ticking to get regular season game-ready and still he wasn’t taking shortcuts and going back to what was familiar.

According to Stottlemyre, Felix stuck with the mechanical changes – using more of his lower body – the Mariners have asked him to make. There are other changes that have been discussed that Stottlemyre hopes to see in games, as well.

Stottlemyre has also talked to Felix about changing his approach, trying to get some contact, trying to get the ball on the ground earlier with the intent of getting him deeper into games. If the count is favorable Felix should still get his strikeouts, but avoiding the prolonged 3-2 count with batters fouling off pitches is key. Stottlemyre saw evidence of this approach in Felix’s first and only spring game and hopes to see it again when he takes the hill next.

“He’s a little older. I think he is starting to understand that and buy into that,” Stottlemyre said. “He knows he can still be great, but he has got to do some things differently. He’s been all business this spring and I can say that, from a guy who has been around him for a few years, I have seen the changes.”

Up next for Felix is to pitch on Monday in a minor league game. With the Mariners facing the Angels that day they will keep their starters from the division rivals, something we have often seen in the past. Also pitching in a minor league game that day: James Paxton. Monday lines up with opening day, and despite the time down Felix is conceding nothing at this point in his quest to pitch the opener.

While understanding Felix’s competitiveness, Stottlemyre said they will remain careful with him as he can’t make up for two weeks of lost work in one outing.

“It’s important, having some understanding of what took place, which was an arm injury,” Stottlemyre said. “There needs to be some caution in ramping him up too quick.

“It’s two to three innings. if he can get through three in 45 pitches we are going to do that and then we will talk about the next one.”

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‘I’m back’: Felix puts on a show in bullpen at Mariners spring training