Felix Hernandez honored to get the ball for the 10th straight Mariners opening day
PEORIA, Ariz. – In his mind there was no question.
“I told you so,” Felix Hernandez yelled playfully when he walked into the room where the media had assembled to talk to him about being named the Mariners’ opening day starter.
“First of all, it’s an honor,” he said, turning serious. “It’s always an honor starting a new season. They are giving me the ball, I appreciate that.”
An injury shortened spring training due to a line drive taken off his pitching arm was no match for the determination to grab his 10th straight opening day start.
“I’m happy,” he said. “After the line drive, I doubted a little bit, but the day after the line drive it felt much better. There was nothing in my elbow so I said, yeah. I’m going to do it. I know I am going to do it.”
— Mariners (@Mariners) March 25, 2018
Felix had a lot to prove and a short time to do it after leaving his first game of the spring with a severe elbow contusion. What he perhaps didn’t understand was that there were things he could do without a baseball in his hand that helped keep him in the conversation.
“Looking at the big picture, it’s not about one game,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Our season is 162 (games), and Felix has earned the right. He is healthy, he’s had a good spring training other than the fact he hasn’t thrown a lot of innings. Everything else has been off the chart, in terms of what we’ve asked him to do.”
Offseason work, willingness to try new things on the mound, and the way he handled himself when he was hurt all factored into the decision, along with pitch count and what Servais and others saw with his stuff. And so Felix gets the ball for a 10th straight time on opening day, becoming just the seventh player in MLB history to do so. A little bit of history that perhaps escaped him.
“Actually I’m not thinking about all those names,” he said. “Who are the other guys?”
Do Tom Seaver, Jack Morris, Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, Walter Johnson and Roy Halladay ring a bell?
“Oh, that means I’m pretty good, huh?” said Felix. “Just to be there with those guys, it’s really an honor for me.”
In the present, Felix relishes the idea of getting the Mariners’ season off to a good start – a start that he hopes ends in his first playoff appearance.
When in a recent morning team meeting Servais fired the question, “What completes Felix Hernandez?” he looked around the room and answered, “It’s pitching in the playoffs with you guys.”
First thing is first. Felix is healthy, he says his arm feels great and he believes he will be allowed to throw 80-85 pitches in Game 1. While Servais pointed out that Thursday is just one of 162 games, for one player, at least, it is different.
“He knows. He knows I can compete,” Felix said. “That’s why he gives me the ball. I love to be with the big crowds, the big stage, I love that.”
Of course this one carries a little extra – it will be only the third season opener Felix has pitched at home.
“Opening day in Seattle,” he mused. “It’s special.”