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Healthy Félix encouraged by strong first start

@mlbbowman
February 22, 2020

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Félix Hernández has been around long enough to know he has plenty left to prove. But given what he has experienced over the past three seasons, the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner had reason to be excited about how he felt while helping the

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Félix Hernández has been around long enough to know he has plenty left to prove. But given what he has experienced over the past three seasons, the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner had reason to be excited about how he felt while helping the Braves claim a 5-0 win over the Orioles on Saturday afternoon in their Grapefruit League opener at CoolToday Park.

“Physically, I feel 100 percent,” Hernández said. “I’m healthy. If I keep doing what I did today, I’m going to be in that spot.”

Hernández is attempting to extend his career while vying for one of the two vacant spots in the Braves’ rotation. He made a good first impression, as he recorded a pair of strikeouts and did not allow a hit over two scoreless innings. Hernández's competition consisted primarily of Orioles Minor Leaguers. But there was still reason to be encouraged by his body language, which indicated he may indeed be healthy.

“I just liked the upbeat aggressiveness he was pitching with,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

The 33-year-old Hernández notched the first of his two strikeouts during a perfect first inning, and then pitched around a walk and a wild pitch in the second. The veteran right-hander needed 30 pitches (17 strikes) to complete his two scoreless innings. His committed offseason training brought him to camp with a much leaner frame and the ability to command both his curveball and changeup much earlier than he has in the past.

“Good results,” Hernández said. “I was throwing a lot of strikes. That’s the main thing. I feel really good.”

There was a time when the six-time All-Star would have exited this kind of outing without much excitement. But that was before he spent the past three years producing a 5.46 ERA over 59 starts for the Mariners. This rough stretch was plagued by multiple injuries. Two separate arm ailments limited him to 16 starts in 2017, and a lat strain limited him to 15 starts last year.

Having to accept a Minor League deal that will guarantee him just $1 million if he’s placed on Atlanta’s active roster, Hernández finds himself in a Spring Training competition for the first time since he debuted at 19 for the 2005 Mariners.

“I’m really excited,” Hernández said. “I’m looking forward to another [start].”

Lineup plans
Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Johan Camargo were all in the lineup for Saturday’s game. But Snitker said he’ll wait until at least Tuesday before putting Marcell Ozuna or either of his two catchers -- Travis d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers -- in the lineup.

Acuña produced an infield single to begin Atlanta’s three-run first, and Freeman contributed a single in the third inning. Camargo, who is battling Austin Riley for the third-base job, knocked a single in the fourth. Snitker lifted all of his starters, minus designated hitter Yonder Alonso, after two plate appearances.

Rocket arm
Braves fans have heard a lot about Shea Langeliers' rocket arm since the catcher was drafted out of Baylor University with the ninth overall pick in last year’s Draft. Most of them got their first look at the 22-year-old catcher as he played the final four innings of Saturday’s game.

Langeliers singled up the middle in his first plate appearance in the sixth inning. But he made a stronger impression with his arm strength while unsuccessfully trying to stop Cedric Mullins from stealing second base in the eighth. Snitker said the pop time was 1.87 seconds.

When the Braves drafted Langeliers, reports showed he had the ability to produce 1.7-second pop times in workouts and 1.8-second clockings during games. Per Statcast, J.T. Realmuto led all Major League catchers with a 1.88 average pop time on throws to second base last year.

Up next
Bryse Wilson will take the mound when the Braves host the split-squad Tigers at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday. Wilson, who has experienced stints at the Major League level in each of the past two seasons, is vying for one of the two vacancies in Atlanta’s rotation. The game can be seen live on MLB.TV.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.