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Felix feels strong, extends throwing program

Mariners' ace aiming to throw pair of bullpen sessions next
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Time is quickly running short for Felix Hernandez, but the longtime Mariners ace threw aggressively on flat ground again on Saturday, and he said he's feeling strong as he works back from the bruised forearm incurred by a line drive in his spring debut 13 days earlier.

And while James Paxton appears to be lining up as the Opening Day starter, manager Scott Servais said he hasn't yet ruled out Hernandez pitching his 10th straight opener.

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PEORIA, Ariz. -- Time is quickly running short for Felix Hernandez, but the longtime Mariners ace threw aggressively on flat ground again on Saturday, and he said he's feeling strong as he works back from the bruised forearm incurred by a line drive in his spring debut 13 days earlier.

And while James Paxton appears to be lining up as the Opening Day starter, manager Scott Servais said he hasn't yet ruled out Hernandez pitching his 10th straight opener.

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With just 19 days now until the Mariners open the regular season on March 29 against the Indians, Hernandez extended his throwing to about 120 feet and said "it's getting better every day" after completing his long-toss session with bullpen catcher Fleming Baez.

The hope now is Hernandez can take the mound next week for a pair of bullpen sessions and have time for at least two spring starts before the regular season begins. Servais isn't committing either way, but it's no coincidence that if Paxton continues pitching every fifth day, he's set for three more Cactus League outings and then would be in line for the opener against Cleveland.

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The more realistic plan for Hernandez, at this point, appears to be getting ready for one of the final games of the opening series, March 31 or April 1, against the Indians. The Mariners wanted to do things differently this spring with Hernandez, getting him started earlier so he could build up more Cactus League innings, but he'll need to be on a shorter program now.

"I've done it before," Hernandez said. "It'll be fine."

Video: SEA@CHC: Felix exits after being hit by comebacker

Servais kept a close eye on Hernandez's throwing session on Saturday and he indicated it went well.

"As far as the timetable, he's still got time," Servais said. "Whether it's that first series, Opening Day, whatever. I haven't looked at a schedule and broke it all down. One thing Felix has always done -- we didn't want to do it in this camp, but he's always been able to ramp it up. We've tried to get away from that. This one was out of our control. But he does feel good."

So he hasn't ruled Hernandez out for Opening Day yet?

"I have not," Servais said.

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

Seattle Mariners, Felix Hernandez