PHOENIX - Felix Hernandez wanted nothing huge Monday, just three innings, a long look at his sinker, a successful first game of the spring.
The Seattle Mariners ace got most of it – though he almost didn’t survive facing his first hitter.
Oakland’s David DeJesus lined a pitch up the middle about head high, and Hernandez made the smart play and got out of the way, if barely.
“I thought, ‘Oh, man, the first game?’ I got out of the way,” Felix said.
“Glad it didn’t clip him,” manager Erik Wedge deadpanned.
Hernandez wasn’t particularly sharp, but he was effective. Scheduled to throw three innings, he lasted 22/3 instead, being lifted by his manager after throwing 53 pitches. The Mariners ended up winning, 6-3.
“No! I haven’t pitched since last year,” he said, laughing. “I felt pretty good, I threw a lot of strikes. It’s been a long time. The sinker was working well.”
Hernandez faced 14 hitters and allowed five hits and a walk, striking out three. What’s next? he was asked.
“I’m going to pitch every fifth day from now on,” he said. “Next time out, four innings. No matter what, four innings!”
This spring, Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis have followed the plan laid out last spring by Don Wakamatsu and Rick Adair, bringing Hernandez along slowly. Knowing how competitive he is, all of them wanted to keep him from facing hitters too soon.
“You face opposing hitters, your heart rate jumps up, your adrenaline pumps and there’s no way to hold back,” Willis said. “We just didn’t want to put Felix in that situation too soon.
“He threw a lot of innings last season, we expect him to throw a lot of innings this season. There’s no race to get him innings the first week of games down here.”
When a writer based on the east coast told Felix that general manager Jack Zduriencik had said he wouldn’t trade him, Hernandez beamed.
“Good,” he said. “I love it here.”