Hernandez returns, set to get down to business

Staff writerFebruary 16, 2013 

PEORIA, Ariz. — Felix Hernandez’s return to the Mariners’ spring training complex on Friday wasn’t quite as grand as his return to Safeco Field on Wednesday.

There were no flashbulbs to greet him, no clicks from photographers’ cameras, and no staffers in yellow King’s Court T-shirts chanting “K! K! K! K!”

Instead, Hernandez wandered quietly into a mostly empty clubhouse at 6:30 a.m. The only people there to greet him were a few sleepy-eyed teammates.

“He beat me here,” Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis said. “I think that’s the first time that’s happened.”

When the bulk of his teammates showed up, a few joked about Hernandez giving out loans and such.

“They are great guys,” Hernandez said.

None of the players ribbed him about his waterfall of tears during Wednesday’s press conference … yet.

“Probably the Latin guys mostly will,” he said.

But Hernandez wasn’t ashamed about the crying. It was emotional overload.

“It was hard not to cry,” he said. “After coming out of the elevator and then all the people there, then to see my wife crying, it was hard for me.”

Hernandez’s first full workout was about half what his teammates did for the day. He was allowed to miss morning conditioning. He played catch, including long toss. He took some pitchers’ fielding practice and then was done — except for a workout in the weight room.

Because of contract negotiations, the trip to Seattle for the press conference and other commitments, Hernandez was forced to miss the first few days of workouts. Manager Eric Wedge isn’t too concerned about the missed time and said he plans to ease Hernandez back into the routine.

“We’ll give him some time just to play catch and get his legs underneath him, then we’ll get him back on the mound and go from there,” Wedge said.

There’s no real hurry. Hernandez isn’t playing in the World Baseball Classic, and the Mariners aren’t going to Japan to start the season early. He won’t throw his first bullpen session until the middle of next week.

“This year we’ve got plenty of time,” Willis said. “We’ll build him up accordingly.”

And with the stress of contract negotiations behind him, Hernandez can now concentrate on the business at hand.

“It’s not on my mind anymore,” he said of his newly signed seven-year, $175 million deal. “I can just focus on baseball. I just have to go out there and do my best.”

If there were any questions about Hernandez being the face of the organization, or his commitment to that responsibility, they are gone.

“I’ve always been responsible with this team because of the way they’ve treated me,” he said. “Nothing is going to change. I’m going to be the same guy I was before.”

It’s the same guy who couldn’t fight back his emotions when he committed to the team, the fans and city for the next seven years.

“It’s coming from me,’ he said. “It’s coming from my heart. The city of Seattle and all the fans have been great. I love that place. I live there, and I love it.”

So what does he need to do now?

“Whatever they ask me to do, I will do it,” he said.

SHORT HOPS

Reliever Jhonny Nunez, who had visa problems coming out of his native Dominican Republic, was supposed to arrive Friday evening. Catcher Ronny Paulino, who is having visa issues in the Dominican Republic as well, won’t arrive until Sunday or Monday. … The Mariners’ first full workout with position players is today. Wedge usually delivers a brief speech to the players for the official start of camp. It’s not something he plans or scripts out. But he knows what he wants to say. “It’s different every year,” he said. “It should be different every year. The principles don’t change, but the message does because we’re in a different situation.” … Veteran free-agent pitchers Jon Garland and Jeremy Bonderman threw bullpen sessions Friday and caught the eye of Willis and Wedge. “They both looked good today,” Wedge said. “They’re both very ready to pitch. They came in here ready to go, and I think that was evident with what you saw today in the bullpens.” … The Mariners confirmed that third base prospect Francisco Martinez, who was acquired in the Doug Fister trade, will work almost exclusively in center field this spring. Martinez, 23, hit .227 (80-for-352) with 16 doubles and 27 stolen bases for Double-A Jackson last season.

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 ryan.divish@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish

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