PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners manager Scott Servais hasn't announced yet whether Felix Hernandez will extend his club record to 11 Opening Day starts, but that decision is looming with just a dozen days until Seattle begins its season against the Indians on March 29 at Safeco Field.The 31-year-old right-hander has
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners manager Scott Servais hasn't announced yet whether Felix Hernandez will extend his club record to 11 Opening Day starts, but that decision is looming with just a dozen days until Seattle begins its season against the Indians on March 29 at Safeco Field.
The 31-year-old right-hander has the longest active streak in the big leagues with nine straight openers, and he's one of just nine pitchers in Major League history to have made at least 10 Opening Day starts with one franchise.
But Hernandez, coming off an injury-plagued 2017 season, was nailed in the right arm by a line drive in his Cactus League debut on Feb. 26 and is just now slated to return in a Minor League outing on Monday against the Padres.
Left-hander James Paxton is lined up to start on Opening Day and has been healthy all spring, so Hernandez will only get the nod if he looks strong enough to convince Servais and the Mariners' brass that he can be ready off one more Cactus League start next weekend.
"After he pitches Monday, we'll have a better feel for if he's going to be able to make it or not," Servais said on Saturday. "If you start looking at the days and mapping it out, we'd need to be very aggressive. He needs to have a good outing, no doubt, but it's more about if he's laboring, how does he look if he's out there 40 pitches?
"And he needs to be honest with himself, where he's at there. So I'll sit down with Felix here today and kind of map it out and give him a better idea of what we're thinking, but more important, listen to him and see where he's at."
Hernandez has insisted all along he can be ready on short notice and wants to pitch the opener. Servais has been around the veteran long enough to know what to expect.
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"We all know how Felix is wired," Servais said. "He wants the ball. He wants to compete. He wants to get our team off to a good start. We always have to look a little broader. It's not just about Opening Day. You hate to say it, but it's just another game. It's one of 162. We need him to make more than one start."
Hernandez threw 38 pitches in a bullpen session on Friday and will up that to about 45 pitches over three innings in the Minor League outing. If he pitches well and there are no setbacks, that leaves a chance he could be built up enough with one more spring start. But it's certainly no sure thing.
"For me, if we don't feel very confident that he can go out in the first series, whether it's Opening Day or the second or third game, if we don't feel confident he can go out and throw 75 or 80 pitches, he probably shouldn't be out there," Servais said. "He should have one more turn. That's how he'd have to be at that point. How he gets to that point, we'll see."
With two off-days in the first five days, Paxton, Mike Leake and Marco Gonzales could handle things until a fourth starter is needed on April 4 at the Giants, which would allow Hernandez to get an additional tune-up if needed.
The Mariners are also iffy on Erasmo Ramirez, sidelined since Feb. 17 by a strained right lat muscle. He's currently playing catch and building up his arm, with a first bullpen session targeted for next week. There's an outside chance he can be ready by the time Seattle needs a fifth starter on April 11, but it seems increasingly likely that Ariel Miranda or Rob Whalen will get that start.
"Both those guys have shown very well," Servais said. "I liked the way Miranda threw the ball the other night over in Oakland. The secondary pitches were a lot better. Whalen probably had the best curveball I've ever seen him have. And really, when you watch a lot of games here in the Cactus League with how dry it is, it's hard to get the ball to break.
"The sharpness and lateness to what Whalen had going the other day with the nine strikeouts against the Rockies was very impressive. Either one of those guys could take that turn."
One thing that won't happen is Whalen or Miranda ending up in the bullpen, as Servais noted the value of having extra starters stretched out and ready is critical. The Mariners were reminded numerous times of that last season, when they used a club-record 17 different starters.
"There's a ton of value in having two, three, four guys that you feel comfortable with in Tacoma," Servais said.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.