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Felix embraces 'pen role but vows to start again

Ramirez to start finale on Sunday in Hernandez's place
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

HOUSTON -- Felix Hernandez has never pitched out of the bullpen in a Major League regular-season game in his 14 years with the Mariners, but he has made three relief appearances in that span.

"I've done it before," Hernandez noted with a wry look on Saturday afternoon, talking with reporters about his role change for the first time. "I've done it in All-Star Games. So it's not going to be that different."

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HOUSTON -- Felix Hernandez has never pitched out of the bullpen in a Major League regular-season game in his 14 years with the Mariners, but he has made three relief appearances in that span.

"I've done it before," Hernandez noted with a wry look on Saturday afternoon, talking with reporters about his role change for the first time. "I've done it in All-Star Games. So it's not going to be that different."

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Of course, Hernandez knows this is different indeed. He acknowledges it has been a struggle mentally since being told Thursday by manager Scott Servais that he'd lost his starting job after going 8-10 with a 5.73 ERA in 23 outings this season.

• Servais describes Felix's role in bullpen

Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez joined the team on Saturday and, while he won't be added to the roster until Sunday, is in line to come off the disabled list and start the series finale against the Astros in Hernandez's place.

Servais said he'd like to get Hernandez into a game for an inning either Saturday or Sunday if possible and begin that process. And for a guy who has started 398 career games, thrown a perfect game and won an American League Cy Young Award along with his six All-Star appearances, that is definitely an adjustment.

Hernandez said it'll take time to warm up in the bullpen, where his normal pregame long-toss routine is no longer part of the process. He laughingly talked about how "boring" it is sitting in the bullpen during a game. But after having time to soak in his new situation, he's ready to hit the reset button.

"I already did. I had a good conversation with my wife, my family, my agent. I'm finally right up here," he said, pointing to his head.

Whether he can perform better in relief remains to be seen, but the 32-year-old said he'll come into games and give everything he's got for however long is required.

"I'm just part of the team and I'm going to do whatever is possible to help this team," Hernandez said. "I'm a professional. I'll be ready and prepared every day."

Servais hopes the change alleviates some of the pressure building on Hernandez as he struggled through the toughest season of his career.

"The biggest thing with Felix is kind of the scenario that was built up around him, this lets some of the air out of the balloon," Servais said. "Catch your breath, step back and just go out and pitch. Whether it's a couple innings, get three outs and then four, five or six outs and just simplify it.

"When you're a starting pitcher, you come in and it's your day. You play basically once a week, the ball is in your hands and you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. The bullpen situation is a different scenario. Just go out and chip in and help the team no matter what the situation calls for."

Video: SEA@HOU: Servais on Hernandez's move to the bullpen

Neither Servais nor Hernandez has ruled out a return to the rotation.

"I hope it goes well," Servais said. "I hope he pitches well enough that there's an opportunity for him to get back in the rotation at some point. We'll see."

For Hernandez, the competitiveness of being one of baseball's premier starters hasn't disappeared.

"I tell you, I'm going to be a starter [again] anyway," he said at the end of his session with reporters. "I'm not a reliever. I'm a starter."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners, Felix Hernandez