King of swing? Mariners let Felix loose in BP

Seattle ace joins other starters in cage to prep for Interleague road games

May 11th, 2016
Felix Hernandez takes batting practice Tuesday at Safeco Field. (Seattle Mariners)

SEATTLE -- Felix Hernandez loves pitching. But you want to see the King having fun? Get a chance to see him take batting practice in preparation for upcoming Interleague Play.

For the past two years, former Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon didn't let his pitchers take BP, preferring they just work on their bunting in the hitting cages.

But new skipper Scott Servais had several of his starters hitting against pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. on Tuesday afternoon at a sun-drenched Safeco Field, and Hernandez was soaking up the chance to swing away.

Is there anything that makes him happier than swinging a bat?

"Hmmm," pondered the King. "I love taking BP. Just being around my family makes me happier than taking BP."

Like most Major League pitchers, Hernandez fancies himself a decent hitter, if just given the chance. Or if given the chance to tell you. Hernandez has a .108 career average (4-for-37) and hasn't had a hit since 2012, but he's still living off the grand slam he launched off the Mets' Johan Santana in 2008 at Shea Stadium.

"Yeah, we all know Felix hit a grand slam," Servais said with a chuckle. "That's part of his deal. It's 'Hi, I'm Felix Hernandez. Did you know I hit a home run?' That's kind of how our introductions went."

Servais does believe there's value in letting his pitchers get some hacks in before they face big league pitching in Interleague road games, and the Mariners face the Reds in Cincinnati next week.

"With Interleague coming up, we haven't done a whole lot of it," he said. "We bunted one day in Spring Training and that was about it. We're close enough now that you can kind of see who lines up on those days and get those guys out here and put a bat in their hand and get them accustomed to it a little bit."

Nathan Karns put on a pretty good show in Tuesday's batting practice, driving five balls over the fence and consistently launching deep drives. Karns is just 1-for-7 in his MLB career, but that one hit was a home run to win a 1-0 game at Philadelphia for the Rays last July 22.

Hisashi Iwakuma and Hernandez also hit, while Taijuan Walker was held out as he returns from a sore neck. Wade Miley wasn't allowed to hit because he was starting Tuesday night's game against the Rays.

"Today wasn't my day," Hernandez said, a day after becoming the winningest pitcher in Mariners history. "I had no homers. Nate has pretty good power. He can hit pretty good. And Kuma hit a homer. But not me. I'm disappointed in myself. I hit some good balls, but I was out on my front side. I have to stay closed."

Yeah, he takes it seriously, sort of.

"I hit a lot when I was young," he said. "I was a pretty good hitter in Little League. I played shortstop. That was good. I still remember. My mom has everything on the wall. Everything I ever won she's got up there. In Little League, I'd pitch the first game and play shortstop in the second done. But when I came here when I was 16, that's when I stopped."

Hernandez's future chances to swing away in games appear good. He's lined up to face both the Reds next week in Cincinnati and then the Padres in the next Interleague road series at the start of June. Miley and Iwakuma are also lined up to face the Reds, while Miley has the second game in San Diego as well.

Having played four years in the National League with the D-backs, Miley is by far the most-experienced hitter in the group. He owns a career .147 average (29-for-197) with one homer and 12 RBIs. Iwakuma is 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts, while Walker is 1-for-9 with a double and five punchouts.