PEORIA, Ariz. -- Seattle manager Scott Servais stopped short of announcing Felix Hernandez as the Mariners' Opening Day starter on Wednesday, but he has the 31-year-old right-hander lined up to pitch the first game against the Indians on March 29 and will stick with that plan if everything goes well
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Seattle manager Scott Servais stopped short of announcing Felix Hernandez as the Mariners' Opening Day starter on Wednesday, but he has the 31-year-old right-hander lined up to pitch the first game against the Indians on March 29 and will stick with that plan if everything goes well in Hernandez's final spring start, on Saturday against the Cubs.
"We still haven't made a decision on it yet," Servais said. "It really depends on where he's at and how he comes out of [this Saturday's outing]. If he does need one more, we'll give him one more. But we want to give him every opportunity to make the Opening Day start if it's good and he's able to hit the benchmarks we have out there. So we'll see what happens on Saturday."
James Paxton is the other option, but he's slated to make his final Cactus League start on Sunday against the Padres. That means he'd be on just three days' rest for Thursday's opener, but that door remains open, since the Mariners could scale him back to just a brief outing against San Diego if Hernandez runs into trouble the day prior.
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"We could cut it a little short with Paxton if we want to, but we feel good about where Felix is at," Servais said. "I think he's looking forward to pitching against the Cubs again, so we'll see how that works out."
Hernandez's only Cactus League start came against the Cubs, but that Feb. 26 spring debut was cut short when he was nailed in the right forearm by a wicked line drive in the second inning. He spent the next three weeks rehabbing, but returned on Monday and threw three sharp innings in a Minor League outing against the Padres.
The decision carries some historic significance, as Hernandez has made nine straight Opening Day starts, the longest active streak in the Majors. He's made 10 previous Opening Day starts overall, a Mariners record.
Only eight other pitchers in MLB history have made 10 Opening Day starts with one franchise, and it's an impressive list -- Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson, Walter Johnson, Juan Marichal, Jack Morris, Robin Roberts, Tom Seaver and Warren Spahn.
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Despite losing to the Astros in last year's opener, when he was taken out with a tight right groin muscle after five innings with a 2-0 deficit, Hernandez is 6-2 with 1.76 ERA in those 10 games, and his 73 strikeouts are the fifth most by any pitcher on Opening Day.
Paxton certainly isn't a bad alternative, as the 29-year-old lefty was 12-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 24 starts last season and is regarded as one of the top southpaws in the American League.
The Indians haven't announced their Opening Day starter either but are expected to go with ace right-hander Corey Kluber, who is coming off his second AL Cy Young Award after going 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA in 29 starts.
Kluber also won the Cy Young in 2014, edging Hernandez in a close vote.
Hernandez, who won the AL Cy Young in 2010, is coming off an injury-plagued 2017 in which he went 6-5 with a 4.36 ERA in 16 starts, but he spent more than half the season sidelined by two stints on the disabled list with shoulder issues.
But he said after Monday's outing that his arm is healthy and that he's eager to get going.
"It feels really good," Hernandez said. "I don't like to be on the DL, that's one thing. I feel really good. I feel strong. It's going to be a good year for us."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.