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Felix opens road toward Opening Day start

Mariners have mapped out ace's Spring Training path for April 6 at Safeco Field

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez made his spring debut for the Mariners on Thursday, throwing his first bullpen session as the progression begins toward his club-record eighth Opening Day start.

Hernandez punctuated his 30-pitch outing with a full 360-degree leap after his final toss, looking like a man who was happy to be back on the mound again after a long winter.

"Finally, huh?" Hernandez said. "That was fun."

Indeed, Hernandez was the last of the Mariners hurlers -- except for injured lefty James Paxton -- to throw a bullpen session, but he's long been approved for his own schedule. Knowing he's lining up for the April 6, pitching coach Rick Waits has already plotted out Hernandez's full spring slate.

With the Mariners, there's not a lot of drama when it comes to announcing who'll be on the hill at Safeco Field when the season starts against the Angels. Hernandez is 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA in seven Opening Day starts, and it would take some bad news to sidetrack him from what would be his seventh straight opener.

Thus, Hernandez said he's keeping to the same Spring Training regimen he's employed for the last four years, with a slightly slower start designed to keep him fresh over the long haul.

"I try to keep healthy," Hernandez said. "I have to throw through the whole season. This was my first bullpen since the last day of last season. But I don't have to throw a lot of bullpens. Two or three, a live BP, and I'll be ready for the games."

Manager Lloyd McClendon has no problem letting Hernandez dictate his own spring pace.

"I trust my veterans," McClendon said. "They've been through it, they know what they're doing. It's still my job to monitor and make sure they're moving in the right direction. But I don't have any issues. They go at it the right way and their track record speaks for itself."

Nobody's track record is better than Hernandez's. He's been remarkably durable, and his streak of six straight seasons with 200-plus innings and 200-plus strikeouts is fourth-longest in Major League history behind Tom Seaver (nine), Roger Clemens and Walter Johnson (seven each).

While nobody was in the batter's box, Hernandez said things went extremely well in his first session.

"I'm telling you, that was good," he said with a smile.

• The rest of Seattle's pitchers are now throwing live batting practice. Half the group threw to hitters Thursday, including starting candidates Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias and Erasmo Ramirez. The rest of the pitchers will throw Friday. As usual, most hitters weren't swinging away on the first day of live BP, choosing instead to just track pitches and get used to seeing the ball again.

• Cactus League play opens March 4 when the Mariners face the Padres at Peoria Stadium, but the club will play an intrasquad game on its main practice field on Monday as a warmup.

• McClendon said Willie Bloomquist will likely see more time as the backup first-base candidate than Rickie Weeks, who will concentrate more on learning the outfield this spring. That leaves Chris Taylor and Brad Miller focusing strictly on the shortstop competition.

"They both saw significant time last year and only one of them can play short as this team shapes up," McClendon said. "I like both guys. They both bring a lot to the table. I think Chris is probably a little bit ahead of the game defensively and Brad is probably ahead of the game offensively. It's a nice combination and let's see what happens. ... If we don't have injuries, I doubt that we can take them both."

• Paxton continues rehabbing his bruised left forearm and is "progressing fine," according to McClendon. "He feels good. They just want to wait until the first of the week to have him throw."

• Versatile prospect Patrick Kivlehan brought three gloves to camp -- an infield, outfield and first-base mitt -- and is waiting to see how things play out. Though he's been listed as an outfielder by the club, Kivlehan worked at first base in the first full-squad workout.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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