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Hernandez throws first camp bullpen armed with new mechanics

Aoki, Cano making strides at Spring Training
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez threw his first bullpen of the spring on Saturday, and he said all felt good, which is always a welcome first step at Mariners camp.

Hernandez operates at his own pace in Spring Training, starting about a week behind the rest of the pitchers when it comes to his throwing schedule off the mound. When you've logged 200-plus innings for eight straight seasons and earned six All-Star berths and a Cy Young Award, managers tend to trust your judgment when it comes to preparation.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez threw his first bullpen of the spring on Saturday, and he said all felt good, which is always a welcome first step at Mariners camp.

Hernandez operates at his own pace in Spring Training, starting about a week behind the rest of the pitchers when it comes to his throwing schedule off the mound. When you've logged 200-plus innings for eight straight seasons and earned six All-Star berths and a Cy Young Award, managers tend to trust your judgment when it comes to preparation.

• Spring Training: Schedule | Tickets | Complete info

New skipper Scott Servais, like Eric Wedge and Lloyd McClendon before him, talked to Hernandez about his plans and gave the thumbs up for the slightly delayed start.

"We're just slow playing it," Servais said. "He'll be ready to go April 4."

Hernandez said his first throwing session went well, as he threw about 40 pitches, including all his off-speed offerings, and finished with his usual 360-degree spin upon completion.

Tweet from @Mariners: Feels good to be back on the mound, huh Felix? #MarinersST pic.twitter.com/sfLx9iQt38

"I've been doing this for awhile, so I'll never forget what I'm supposed to do," Hernandez said with a wry smile.

But the 29-year-old acknowledged that he was working on some new mechanical tweaks to his delivery, the result of some minor tinkering after what he deemed an unsatisfactory 2015, when he went 18-9 with a 3.53 ERA, his highest ERA since 2007.

A career-high-tying 23 home runs allowed also stuck in his craw, as did the fact he fell short of 200 strikeouts for the first time in seven years.

"I'm just staying closed, not opening up on the front side," Hernandez said. "It feels different, but it feels good, too. Last year I was inconsistent. I left a lot of balls up and gave up a lot of homers. I decided to keep the ball down and fix my mechanics."

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Hernandez is in line to make the ninth Opening Day start of his career -- and eighth in a row -- at Texas on April 4. He's on schedule to throw another bullpen on Tuesday, and then work up to live batting practice, a simulated game and eventually join the Mariners' Cactus League rotation in time to make four or five Cactus League starts.

It's the same program he's been on for the past five-plus years.

"Nothing different," Hernandez said with a shrug. "I don't think I need to throw a lot of innings in Spring Training to be ready for the season. So I'm just keeping it like that."

Indeed, the Mariners ace has never failed to be ready for Opening Day, when he's gone 6-0 with a 1.49 ERA in his eight previous opportunities.

Around the horn
• The Mariners held their second round of live batting practice on Saturday, with starting candidates Nathan Karns, Joe Wieland and Adrian Sampson among those facing hitters for the first time. Also throwing were relievers Mayckol Guaipe, Ryan Cook, David Rollins and Jonathan Aro.

Hisashi Iwakuma and Danny Hultzen are on a slightly slower program as well, both throwing an additional bullpen on Saturday instead of moving into the live BP.

• New left fielder Nori Aoki didn't take long to show how well he handles the bat in bunting and situational hitting drills.

"I was not here when Ichiro was here, but you see a lot of the bat-to-ball skill, the eye-hand coordination and being really easy with it," said Servais. "He's a gifted player, no doubt. And you see a lot when you do those types of drills."

• Servais said second baseman Robinson Cano has looked 100 percent healthy as he returns from offseason hernia surgery.

"He looks great to me," he said. "That's the Robbie Cano I always remember seeing. Very healthy. He had a very long day yesterday and came out of it great."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast.

Seattle Mariners, Felix Hernandez