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Healthy Whalen 'having fun again' on mound

23-year-old righty allows 1 run, fans 4 in first spring start
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Right-hander Rob Whalen, starting in place of the injured Felix Hernandez, continued being one of the pleasant surprises of Mariners camp as the 23-year-old threw three innings of one-run ball in Seattle's 4-2 win over the Angels on Saturday night.

Whalen, who walked away from the game last July to deal with depression and anxiety issues after struggling at Triple-A Tacoma, gave up three hits in his first Cactus League start. He's allowed four hits and one run with one walk and six strikeouts in five innings this spring.

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PEORIA, Ariz. -- Right-hander Rob Whalen, starting in place of the injured Felix Hernandez, continued being one of the pleasant surprises of Mariners camp as the 23-year-old threw three innings of one-run ball in Seattle's 4-2 win over the Angels on Saturday night.

Whalen, who walked away from the game last July to deal with depression and anxiety issues after struggling at Triple-A Tacoma, gave up three hits in his first Cactus League start. He's allowed four hits and one run with one walk and six strikeouts in five innings this spring.

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"It feels good," Whalen said. "It's refreshing to feel clear mentally and physically and not worry about any restrictions or nagging injuries. It's good. I'm just embracing it. I'm having fun, not trying to get too high on anything or get too low after the home runs or anything like that. Just go back out and make a quality pitch. I'm having fun again and I'm just going to ride that."

Video: Rob Whalen on his preparation and lifestyle changes Whalen gave up a one-out homer to Martin Maldano in the first, but then settled in and struck out four of the final seven batters he faced.

"Rob continues kind of this transformation from everything he went through last year," said manager Scott Servais. "It's great to see him get results. Nice start tonight in a night game. He handled it really well. He made one mistake on the home run, but otherwise the offspeed pitches -- the curveball and slider -- were both there. He's going to help us at some point this year, no doubt."

Shortstop Jean Segura hit a two-run homer in the second and Dee Gordon tripled and scored in the fifth, while reliever David Phelps threw a 1-2-3 fifth in his first appearance as he returns from bone spur surgery on his right elbow in September.

Video: LAA@SEA: Segura slugs a two-run homer for the lead

Heredia thrilled to be healthy, back in action

Outfielder Guillermo Heredia was all smiles Saturday after getting his first Cactus League action the day before with a pair of walks in two plate appearances in Seattle's 4-2 win over the Brewers. Heredia is far ahead of the initial recovery timeline from October shoulder surgery. He says he'll definitely be full go by Opening Day.

"I felt like a kid getting a new gift," said the Cuban native, using bench coach Manny Acta as an interpreter. "As soon as I heard the news in the morning that I was going to play, from that moment I was the happiest guy in camp."

Heredia figures to fill the Mariners' fourth-outfielder role, and his early return is welcome for a team that has been hit by a number of injuries already this spring. Manager Scott Servais said Heredia will be limited to designated hitter duties for now.

"He's worked his tail off to come back as quickly as he has, but we want to be smart," Servais said. "It's about the season, not Spring Training. Eventually we'll get him out on the field, maybe a week or 10 days from now. I'm not worried about him defensively, but getting the at-bats will help with his timing."

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Heredia played the final two months of last season with the shoulder issue that he said got bad enough that it was bothersome even when he wasn't playing. But he's pain free now and eager to show what he can do when healthy.

"There's no doubt the shoulder was bothering him more than he was letting on, which says a lot about how he's wired," Servais said. "He wants to play and has done a lot to get this opportunity. He's not going to let it slip away."

Injury update

• Felix Hernandez has regained flexibility in his bruised right arm and the plan is for him to begin playing catch again on Tuesday and then progress toward returning to game action after being hit with a line drive last Monday in his Cactus League debut.

"That's the goal," Servais said. "He's recovered real quickly, which is really good. I don't think he'll miss too much time, but you don't know until he can start playing catch."

Video: SEA@CHC: Felix exits after being hit by comebacker

• Left fielder Ben Gamel will be shut down for at least several days after feeling some pain in his right side while swinging in the cage on Friday. Gamel said it was the first time the issue had cropped up and he's counting on just a brief delay.

The Mariners are already awaiting the return of right fielder Mitch Haniger, who hasn't played yet this spring and will see a hand specialist Monday before he's hoping to be cleared to begin swinging a bat again.

"You're always concerned," Servais said of Gamel's situation. "We'll know more here in the next few days. The doctor will be in Monday and take a look at him. Crazy stuff keeps kind of happening, but we'll try to keep moving forward and don't want to get too worked up about it until we know more."

Worth noting

• The upcoming rotation will have James Paxton pitching vs. the Rangers in Surprise on Sunday, Mike Leake starting Tuesday night against the Rockies and Marco Gonzales on Wednesday night vs. the A's.

• The Mariners have their first off-day of the spring on Monday, but Ariel Miranda and Christian Bergman will each throw three innings in an intersquad contest against Minor League hitters in order to stay on schedule.

Up next

Paxton will make his second start of the spring and is slated for three innings in Sunday's 12:05 p.m. PT game against the Rangers in Surprise, Ariz. Young starter Andrew Moore will come out of the bullpen for a few innings of work, while closer Edwin Diaz is also slated to throw. Former Mariner Doug Fister starts for Texas. The game will be available on Gameday Audio.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners, Rob Whalen