Felix to make 10th straight Opening Day start
Marks 11th overall time Mariners' ace received prestigeous assignment
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The longest active streak among Major League starting pitchers will stay alive for another year. Felix Hernandez was informed on Sunday he will get the ball when the Mariners begin their season on Thursday against the Indians and defending American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber at Safeco Field.
Though Hernandez pitched in just three games this spring -- including one Minor League outing after getting hit by a line drive in his debut four weeks ago -- the 31-year-old right-hander will be given his 11th Opening Day start and 10th in a row by manager Scott Servais.
"I only threw like eight innings in Spring Training, so that's a little different," Hernandez said. "But it's always the same. It's always an honor to start a new season. They're giving the ball to me, so I appreciate that."
Hernandez will be just the seventh pitcher in MLB history to make 10 straight Opening Day starts, joining Jack Morris (14 from 1980-93), Robin Roberts (12 from '50-61), Tom Seaver (12 from '68-79), Steve Carlton (10 from '77-86), Walter Johnson ('12-21) and Roy Halladay (10 from 2003-12).
"Looking at the big picture, it's not about one game. Our season is 162 [games], and Felix has earned the right," Servais said. "He is healthy, he's had a good Spring Training -- other than the fact he hasn't thrown a lot of innings. Everything else has been off the chart, in terms of what we've asked him to do."
• Most consecutive Opening Day starts by a pitcher
That decision lines up a rotation of Hernandez, James Paxton, Mike Leake and Marco Gonzales, as the Mariners will open the season with just four starters. Ariel Miranda figures to join that group when a fifth starter is needed for the first time on April 11, with Erasmo Ramirez just beginning to throw after straining his right oblique at the start of camp.
Hernandez threw 63 pitches over 3 2/3 innings in a 7-3 win over the Cubs on Saturday night, allowing one run on four hits. He'll only be asked to throw about 85-90 pitches in the opener, which the Mariners hope can get him through at least five innings.
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"We all know Felix is an adrenaline guy," Servais said. "He gets fired up when the house is full of fans. He feeds off it. He'll handle it. He is deserving of it. His track record speaks for itself. I'm excited to give him the ball. I'm excited where he's at. In my tenure here, this is the best spot I've seen Felix Hernandez in -- just where he's at in [terms of] engaging with teammates and taking a bigger role.
"I asked him the other day in front of the whole group what completes Felix Hernandez? He looked around the clubhouse and said to his teammates, 'It's pitching in the playoffs with you guys.' He's in a really good spot and I'm looking forward to having him out there."
Hernandez has earned six All-Star berths, won a Cy Young Award and thrown a perfect game, but he's yet to pitch in a postseason game and that, indeed, is a driving force.
"I made a commitment to stay here for a long time," Hernandez said. "I think the city of Seattle deserves to be in the playoffs and we deserve to be in the playoffs."
That will require the rotation to be strong and Servais feels good about the way the top four starters have pitched this spring.
"A lot of it is [generated by] Marco Gonzales, quite frankly," Servais said. "Marco is having an outstanding spring. It's what we expected he could do. He looks very strong. All his pitches are there and he's confident."
Gonzales will start the Cactus League finale on Tuesday against the Rockies in Scottsdale, then open his season the following Tuesday in Seattle's first road game at San Francisco.
With Hernandez going in the opener, Paxton follows on Saturday against the Indians and Leake will close out the opening series on Sunday.
"Pax is fully healthy, and as we get closer to Opening Day, the velocity has creeped up -- which is a good thing," said Servais. "And Mike Leake does what Mike Leake does. He goes out there and competes. I like our rotation where we are, right now."