SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jon Garland walked around the mound for a few moments before his first pitch.
The circle of dirt at Scottsdale Stadium was no different than any of the others that he had pitched from in his previous 12 big league seasons, a place where he has found comfort and success as a starting pitcher. It is home.
But on Thursday, in those few moments before Garland’s first appearance in more than a year, the situation felt surreal to the veteran right-hander.
“It was definitely a little weird,” he said. “I haven’t been out there for so long with umpires out there and in uniform and throwing to guys like that. I’ve thrown in bullpens, I’ve thrown on the back field, but until you get in that game situation and you get your blood going, you really don’t know how you are going to feel.”
Garland’s blood was certainly going before the game.
“There definitely was some adrenaline,” he said. “I’d imagine if it was regular season there would be a lot more. There was definitely more adrenaline than I’ve felt in a while.”
It’s understandable considering the last time he pitched in a game was June 1, 2011.
After that start, Garland battled pain his throwing shoulder and subsequently had surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff damage. While he questioned whether he would pitch again, he rehabbed the injury then tried to come back with the Cleveland Indians. He suffered a setback, questioned his future again but continued to rehab, then signed a minor league contract with the Mariners and worked his way up to Thursday.
After all of that, it’s understandable that Garland felt strange as he took the mound — perhaps he felt a little vindicated, too.
After that first pitch to Giants leadoff hitter Angel Pagan, the weirdness dissipated.
“It felt really good,” Garland said. “To a certain extent, it felt normal. It felt like that’s where I should be and where I belong.”
Facing a lineup similar to what the Giants will likely field on opening day, Garland worked his one inning without incident. He got two ground-ball outs from Pagan and Marco Scutaro before his command got away a little and he walked Pablo Sandoval.
It appeared he would get out of the inning when the next batter, Buster Posey, hit a ground ball back up the middle. It wasn’t hit hard, and Garland put his glove down but didn’t come up with it. It left him staring at the leather on his left hand.
“I should have had it,” he said. “I take pride in fielding my position. I’m not Felix (Hernandez) and I’m not going to go out and strike out 10 guys a game.
“If you are going to hit a ball back at me, I need that out. Especially in that situation. Now there are two guys on with two outs and it could have led to something bigger.”
Garland got Hunter Pence to ground softly back to the mound. This time, Garland gloved the ball and tossed it to first for the easy out – his one inning of work complete.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge was happy.
“I thought Jon threw the ball well, especially since he hasn’t been out there in a while,” Wedge said. “He was down. He used his pitches. It was a good first outing.”
Garland’s goals were simple.
“Number one, I wanted to come out of it healthy,” he said. “Number 2, I wanted to keep the ball down. Regardless if they made outs, they got hits, they hit homers, I wanted to keep the ball down and feel good about the pitches I was throwing.”
FELIX THROWS BP
Hernandez is making slow steps toward pitching in a Cactus League game. With the spring training season longer than usual because of the World Baseball Classic, the Mariners are in no hurry to rush Hernandez, who missed a few days of workouts to sign his new seven-year, $175 million contract.
On Thursday, the progression continued with Hernandez throwing a live batting practice session.
Hernandez pitched for 10 minutes, throwing 32 pitches to four minor leaguers — James Jones, Ji-Man Choi, Mike Dowd and Gabriel Guerrero. Hernandez gave up two soft singles, but mostly induced swings and misses.
“Definitely had good arm speed, good pitches,” he said afterward. “I feel pretty good. I’m happy about it.”
Wedge was also quite happy.
“Felix threw the ball great,” he said. “In regard to what we were hoping to see, and what he looked like, it was fantastic. A lot of life, good arm action, good command, it was strong.”
Hernandez will throw one more batting practice session in three or four days and make his Cactus League debut sometime late next week.
SPRING TRAINING RECAP
MARINERS 4, GIANTS 3 (at Scottsdale Stadium)
The facts: The Mariners won their sixth straight Cactus League game, thanks to solo homers from Franklin Gutierrez and Nick Franklin and an RBI double from Justin Smoak. Seattle roughed up Giants ace Matt Cain, scoring three runs on four hits in Cain’s three innings. The three pitchers vying for the starting rotation – Jon Garland, Blake Beavan and Erasmo Ramirez – combined to pitch six innings, allowing two runs (both charged to Beavan) on six hits.
Play of the game: Carter Capps managed to pitch himself into a jam and pitch himself right out of it. With the Mariners up 4-2, the hard-throwing Capps gave up back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning, putting runners on first and third. And there they stayed. Capps struck out the next three hitters to end the threat.
Who was hot: Justin Smoak again? Yes, again. The big first baseman ripped an opposite field RBI double to left-center in the third inning off of Cain to score Casper Wells, who led off the inning with a double. In his final at-bat, Smoak — batting right-handed against lefty Dan Runzler — bounced a ball up the middle for an infield single. He’s hitting .583 this spring.
Who was not: Reliever Yoervis Medina had an interesting ninth inning. Brought on to protect Seattle’s 4-2 lead, Medina couldn’t throw strikes with his fastball. He still managed to get the first two outs of the inning. Then, things got interesting. He gave up a single to Nick Noonan and an RBI double to Cole Gillespie. But with the tying run on second, Medina got Gary Brown to fly out to end the game.
Quotable: “Felix threw the ball great (during live batting practice). In regard to what we were hoping to see, and what he looked like, it was fantastic. A lot of life, good arm action, good command, it was strong.” — Mariners manager Eric Wedge on Felix Hernandez.
On tap: Talented left-handed pitching prospect James Paxton will make his first Cactus League start today at 12:05 p.m. (PST) as the Mariners return to Peoria to face the Texas Rangers. Also scheduled to pitch are Brandon Maurer, Stephen Pryor and Bobby LaFromboise. The Rangers will start left-hander Randy Wells.Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 ryan.divish@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish firstname.lastname@example.org