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Felix hurls 6 shutout innings in 3rd rehab start

Mariners ace strikes out 8 at Triple-A, likely will return to face Astros on Friday
MLB.com @DougMillerMLB

TACOMA, Wash. -- As Mariners ace Felix Hernandez took the mound in the third inning of his final rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma on a chilly, damp Saturday night, the video board blinked Rainiers red and said, "Hail, Felix."

It was more like light drizzle, but the sentiment was understood.

TACOMA, Wash. -- As Mariners ace Felix Hernandez took the mound in the third inning of his final rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma on a chilly, damp Saturday night, the video board blinked Rainiers red and said, "Hail, Felix."

It was more like light drizzle, but the sentiment was understood.

Hernandez, who has been out since April 26 with right shoulder bursitis, had spent his last three outings pitching for the appreciative Minor League crowds at Cheney Stadium, but as far as he was concerned -- and he hoped the Mariners agreed -- it was time for him to head back to the Mariners.

Saturday's effort pretty much assured that.

Hernandez cruised through six scoreless innings against Salt Lake, the Angels' Triple-A affiliate, giving up only four hits and striking out eight without walking a batter. Hernandez, who topped out at 91 mph with his fastball, threw 87 pitches, 57 of which were strikes.

Most important, he said he felt healthy and locked in.

"It feels really good," Hernandez said. "I felt comfortable with my mechanics, good curveball, good pitches. I think I'm ready to roll."

That will likely be Friday night at Safeco Field in the weekend series opener against the first-place Houston Astros. For Hernandez, it can't come soon enough after a rehab road that ended up being longer than expected.

The veteran right-hander had a shaky first rehab outing for Tacoma on June 6, when he lasted only two innings and gave up five runs on four hits, including a grand slam, while throwing 50 pitches.

That effort, in which Hernandez said he felt uncomfortable and out of sync, paved the way for two more such starts instead of the originally planned one extra outing.

He improved significantly in his next one, going five innings on June 11 vs. Las Vegas and giving up one run on one hit while striking out five and throwing 64 pitches.

And Saturday was the capper.

"I got a lot of swings and misses," Hernandez said. "That's a good sign. The changeup was unbelievable today, and I had good mechanics with the fastball."

There was only one brief moment when things looked a bit odd. In the third inning, the training staff came to the mound because Hernandez had backed off the rubber in the middle of an at-bat. Hernandez said it was a minor breathing issue that most likely came from being "too hyper, probably," and that it's something he experienced "a few times last year."

Hernandez didn't seem to think it was a big deal. He was already penciling in Friday.

"I'm looking forward to [coming off] the DL," Hernandez said. "It's been boring."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.

Seattle Mariners, Felix Hernandez