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Felix returns, says he wants Opening Day nod

Mariners waiting to see how his arm responds before deciding
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez said he's ready to make his 11th Opening Day start after throwing 3 2/3 inning of one-run ball in Saturday night's 7-3 Cactus League victory over the Cubs. Now it's up to the Mariners to see whether they agree.

Manager Scott Servais said Hernandez's 63 pitches were about what the Mariners wanted in his first Cactus League game since getting hit with a line drive a month ago. But they'll wait to see how his arm feels on Sunday before deciding whether he's ready to face the Indians in Thursday's season opener.

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PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez said he's ready to make his 11th Opening Day start after throwing 3 2/3 inning of one-run ball in Saturday night's 7-3 Cactus League victory over the Cubs. Now it's up to the Mariners to see whether they agree.

Manager Scott Servais said Hernandez's 63 pitches were about what the Mariners wanted in his first Cactus League game since getting hit with a line drive a month ago. But they'll wait to see how his arm feels on Sunday before deciding whether he's ready to face the Indians in Thursday's season opener.

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"The goal was to get him to 65 pitches," Servais said. "We'll see how he feels tomorrow and then go from there."

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Without question, Hernandez wants to take the mound against the Indians on Thursday at Safeco Field. The chance to pitch his 10th straight opener -- extending the longest active streak in the Majors -- looms large for the 31-year-old.

"That'd be awesome," he said. "It means I've been here a long time, so it's good."

Video: CHC@SEA: Hernandez ends the top 3rd with a strikeout

The question is how good Hernandez will be in a matchup against defending American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber of the Indians.

The veteran was making just his second Cactus League start -- and first since getting nailed in the right arm by a line drive off the bat of Cubs catcher Victor Caratini just four outs into his debut on Feb. 26.

He allowed a leadoff homer to Ian Happ on a fly to left, but that was the only run allowed while working around four hits with one walk and three strikeouts

"That was the wind," he said of Happ's first-pitch home run. "That fly ball in Seattle is not even to the warning track."

He's probably right about that, but the question of how effective he'll be on a short spring buildup against a strong Indians lineup -- after facing mostly a backup group of Cubs in their split-squad outing -- remains to be seen.

Video: CHC@SEA: Happ hits a homer on the very first pitch

"I thought he was really amped up," Servais said of Saturday's outing. "I thought he overthrew a little bit the first inning and part of the second. His fastball really had life, but when you get a little amped up, sometimes the secondary pitches and the command of those aren't quite there.

"But he's healthy, and I thought he settled in better in the third inning and then the pitch count got him. Healthwise, no issues there at all. He felt good."

Hernandez acknowledged his command needs to improve, but he felt strong and was sitting at 90-92 mph with his fastball, typical of his recent years.

He knows he needs to be more efficient, but believes that will come.

"I'm happy with the work. I'm happy with my arm," he said. "So everything is fine."

Video: CHC@SEA: Mariners turn two behind Hernandez

Hernandez pitched three sharp innings in a Minor League game on Monday, but that was his only game action since the abbreviated opener. So this game carried significance and he admitted to some unusual adrenaline, just because he hadn't pitched in so long.

"My command was bad, really bad," he said. "That's the one thing. I was too excited because today was my first time out there in a long time. It's one of those things. Opening Day, I'll be myself."

All things are lined up for Hernandez to make the Opening Day start. The other option would be James Paxton, but he's scheduled to start Sunday's game against the Padres, which then would put him on three days' rest -- one less than normal -- for Thursday's opener.

The Mariners could pull Paxton after a couple of innings Sunday and have him ready for Thursday if needed, but that decision would have to be made before the game, which means Hernandez will know very shortly if his Opening Day streak continues.

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

Seattle Mariners, Felix Hernandez