PEORIA, Ariz. - The most recognizable faces of the Seattle Mariners - from Icihro Suzuki to Franklin Gutierrez - were in Peoria Stadium for the annual Fanfest.
Briefly, so was the man most fans wanted to see – Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez.
Hernandez signed autographs, then was carted to the practice fields, where he stretched and then threw live batting practice to hitters.
Few people knew where to find him Saturday, and after throwing he went directly to the clubhouse for ice.
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“We’re making him take it slow, and he understands,” pitching coach Carl Willis said. “It’s a lot like last September, when he didn’t make his final start. He understood. He didn’t like it, but he understood, and that’s what it’s like now.
“Realistically, Felix is ready to pitch now. He’s in tremendous shape.”
And yet he won’t pitch in an exhibition game until later this week, three, four or five games into the Cactus League schedule.
“I want to pitch, it’s their job to protect me,” Hernandez said of the coaching staff. “I’m on the same schedule I was a year ago, and that worked out pretty good.”
He rated his fastball as so-so, his curve good and his change-up very good.
“I told one hitter it was coming and he still swung and missed,” Felix said.
There’s only one drawback to not facing hitters from another team, he said.
“I don’t like to work inside to my own hitters,” he said. “But there’s plenty of time.”
NO ANSWERS YET
Gutierrez rejoined the team and took part in the full workout, still awaiting test results from his doctors for stomach problems.
“No answers,” he said of his day in Seattle. “I’m waiting for the results to hear what I’ll have to change in my diet.”
“Maybe ice cream,” he said.
Gutierrez was asked how the stomach problems impacted him last year, when he won a Gold Glove for defense but batted just .245.
“I didn’t have the same energy. I wouldn’t blame what happened on the field last year on that, but it was a little part of that,” he said.
Erik Bedard will start today’s exhibition game with the San Diego Padres, with Luke French, Manny Delcarmen, Denny Bautista, Justin Miller, Cesar Jimenez, Yusmeiro Petit and Chris Smith to follow. In the first three games, Seattle plans to use 24 pitchers. Manager Eric Wedge, on resting regulars during the season: “It’s a fine line to walk because every player wants to play. My job is to give them time when they need it, give them the chance to be the best they can be. That may be playing 155 games instead of 162. Some guys aren’t exactly pleased, but that’s my job.”