PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez made his way to the Mariners' dugout prior to Sunday's game as a passenger in an electric cart, his cap on backward and his feet up, the laid-back demeanor a perfect fit for a sunny spring day in Arizona.
As the ace of the Seattle staff warmed up in the bullpen in left field, the rail above him was teeming with fans soaking in the warmup session for King Felix -- all eyes on the franchise favorite as he went through the routines of early Cactus League play.
Once Hernandez reached the mound against the Rangers, of course, it was all business, and Hernandez delivered the goods, unleashing 48 pitches in his second outing of this spring session, 34 of them for strikes.
"I think my pitches were working, and I was in the strike zone, so I like that," Hernandez said afterward.
The results? Well, they weren't pretty -- four earned runs on four hits while striking out four and walking one. That's more runs than he allowed in any Cactus League outing last spring, and just one fewer than he allowed in his four 2013 exhibition outings combined.
But Hernandez, a young but seasoned veteran who's been through the rites of spring for years and years, knows this is just the prelude to the real business at hand in the regular season, so he knows the numbers don't matter -- the work does.
"No, we're in Spring Training," Hernandez said. "I was [mad] because I want to throw zeroes out there, but it's Spring Training so I don't care too much."
After all, the idea is to get ready for the season gradually, and Hernandez took the next step in that direction with an outing that lasted only 2 1/3 innings but did the trick in showing he's well on his way to being ready for the real deal.
"I thought Felix threw the ball extremely well," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He had a couple of tough breaks. The ball came out nice. He pounded the zone down, which is impressive. I was very pleased."
First-year pitching coach Rick Waits was the Minor League pitching coordinator for the Mariners the last three years but in that capacity saw plenty of Hernandez during Spring Training. Waits says King Felix is on a better track than he was a year ago, regardless of the results on the scoreboard.
"I think overall he's stronger this year and throwing better than he did last year in Spring Training. He was off to a real slow start and was just going by now," Waits said.
It all starts at the beginning, and Waits says Hernandez came to Arizona "in great shape" this spring, and his outing Sunday was another step toward a season the Mariners hope will be another Cy Young-caliber campaign.
While Waits has spent much of his career in development mode, helping young pitchers do what it takes to reach the Majors, he's enjoying his experience thus far with Hernandez, who has established himself as one of the elite pitchers in the game.
"He's just a dream for me to have around here, because he doesn't keep to himself, he'll share his knowledge," Waits said. "These first few weeks here are really about me getting to know him and his routines and asking him questions, knowing what's going on when he's going bad and seeing what he does when he's going right, memorizing all that. He's educating me very well on that."
With Waits getting to know the staff ace and Hernandez getting himself ready for the season, Hernandez said the "feel was better" on his changeup, which Waits says is an important pitch for the right-hander who will only be 28 in April but already has eight-plus years in the Majors under his belt.
On Sunday, there were a few flukes and bloops that contributed to the runs that sent Hernandez's spring ERA up to an unsightly 8.31 mark, but Hernandez walked away knowing he'd done what he needed to do on an early spring afternoon.
"I probably deserved better, but I felt pretty good out there. I was throwing a lot of strikes," he said.
Likewise, Waits doesn't look at the box score to see how Hernandez is doing. He knows King Felix is further along than Sunday's results might indicate.
"No one feels good about giving up runs, but he has to feel good about where he's at right now," Waits said.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB.