Mariners map out plan for fun-loving Felix

Hernandez throws bullpen session, is scheduled to make first spring start Feb. 26

February 17th, 2018

PEORIA, Ariz. -- is looking for one thing this spring. He wants to stay healthy.

The Mariners are looking for something else as well. They want their longtime ace to get back to having a good time and being fun-loving Felix. Which, of course, would come a lot easier if he stays healthy and productive on the mound.

The 31-year-old right-hander took his first step in that process on Saturday with a 27-pitch bullpen session that he dubbed "OK" after getting his work in under the watchful eyes of general manager Jerry Dipoto, manager Scott Servais and team president Kevin Mather.

The Mariners know Hernandez holds a big key to their chances this year after managing just 16 starts last season due to lingering shoulder issues. But Servais isn't looking to apply more pressure at this point.

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"The biggest thing I want to see out of Felix, quite honestly, is a smile on his face," Servais said. "Get back to loving being on the mound and loving doing his craft and working toward Opening Day. If he's got a smile on his face and everything else is working right, everything will be good."

No games are won or lost on a February afternoon in Peoria, but it certainly was encouraging to see Hernandez emerge from his session without any physical issues.

"It was good. I was fine. I was happy," Hernandez said. "I threw everything. Curveball, changeup, sinker, one slider."

As for his command?

"It was OK," he said. "I was better from the stretch than the windup. I don't know. Maybe more balanced from the stretch. I was moving all over the place with the windup."

Hernandez has two more throwing sessions -- next Tuesday and Friday -- before getting his first Cactus League start on Monday, Feb. 26, against the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz.

Hernandez said his spring starts are already mapped out, with the tentative plan to then face the Angels in Peoria on March 3, the Giants in Peoria on March 8, the Rockies at Salt River Fields on March 13 and the Indians in Peoria on March 18.

His final spring start will be either March 24 against the Cubs or March 25 against the Padres -- both games at Peoria. That remains undetermined since Servais hasn't announced a starter yet for Opening Day against the Indians on March 29.

If Hernandez makes his final Cactus League appearance on March 24, that would line him up to make his ninth straight Opening Day start. If he takes the mound on March 25, he wouldn't be ready to pitch again until Seattle's second game of the year on March 31.

With coming off an outstanding season, the Mariners have a decision to make there, but won't need to do so until late in camp.

For now, they just want to see Hernandez build up his arm and show he's healthy ... and having fun.

"I just want to throw strikes, that's all," Hernandez said. "And feel good."

First-base fill-ins

With out likely until around Opening Day as he recovers from hand surgery, the Mariners will work several players at first base this spring. Rookies and are the only other true first basemen in camp, but outfielder and veteran infielder Matt Hague will see action there, along with utility candidates and .

"We'll get it covered," Servais said. "It gives a lot of opportunity to some other guys to show what they can do with the bat and if they can handle it over there. Certainly Ford and Vogelbach will get the majority of the work."

Reinforcements on the way

Mariners position players aren't scheduled to arrive until Monday for their physical exams, with the first full-squad workout on Tuesday. But third baseman was the latest to arrive on Saturday after driving from North Carolina with his wife and two children, ages 4 and 1.

"I think he's ready to start playing ball," Servais said with a laugh. "When you have two kids at home, it's time to get to work. I've been there."

The only Mariners on the 40-man roster who haven't checked in yet are , , , Romine and Vogelbach. Healy also isn't scheduled to return until Monday, but he'll be limited to rehab work for the first 10 days or so before beginning some on-field defensive drills.