Mariners to show off their Sunday best
Hernandez set for spring debut, to be monitored closely
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners finally play their ace on Sunday.
That's when right-hander Felix Hernandez, a 19-game winner and runner-up in the American League Cy Young Award race last season, makes his Cactus League debut against the Rockies in Tucson, Ariz.
"I will probably hit a home run," Hernandez said with a smile on Saturday as he removed a batting helmet from his locker. "I don't have a bat, yet. Maybe I'll use one of Griffey's."
Unlike Ken Griffey, there probably is not a home run in Hernandez's immediate future, but he is scheduled to throw three innings or 50 pitches, whichever comes first.
"We're going to have him tracking the ball when he's up there," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "The look on his face when we give him the take sign is the same look when somebody steals your bike."
Though he hasn't thrown a pitch in a game situation this spring, Hernandez has looked good during his bullpen sessions and two simulated games.
"He came to camp rarin' to go and it was important for us to slow him down a little bit," Wakamatsu said. "But he has looked great. His mechanics look more refined, he's in better shape, he's strong and is more poised."
King Felix is ready to actually get some adrenaline flowing through his veins.
"It seems like a year since I have thrown in a game," he said. "The other pitchers are getting all over me, asking what I have been doing for the past month."
2010 Spring Training - Seattle Mariners
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Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
Hernandez, who last faced a hitter on Oct. 4 against Texas at Safeco Field, said the main thing in his maiden voyage this spring is to "throw all my pitches for strikes, keep the ball down and hit the corners. We'll see what happens, but I hope to be good."
He was more than good most of last season, posting a 15-2 record and 1.98 ERA from May 24 to the final day, when he beat the Rangers. His .792 winning percentage via a 19-5 season, was the best in the AL and he finished in the top three in wins, ERA, starts, strikeouts and innings pitched.
In fact, the career-high 238 1/3-inning workload -- plus another 8 2/3 during the World Baseball Classic -- prompted the organization to bring Hernandez along slowly this Spring Training.
The game plan is for him to pitch around 20 innings, leading up to his anticipated Opening Day start against the Athletics on April 5 in Oakland. He should get four more starts between Sunday and the season opener, followed each time by left-hander Cliff Lee, who will make his second start of the spring on Monday in Tucson against the Diamondbacks.
The remainder of the five-man rotation will take shape over the next two weeks.
There will be one significant difference for Hernandez on Sunday: He'll be throwing to rookie catcher Adam Moore instead of Rob Johnson, a duo that worked extremely well a year ago.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," said Moore, who has six games of Major League service on his resume but has been one of the brightest spots in this camp. "This will be my first time actually catching him in a game situation."
Their only previous work together came during bullpen sessions and the first of two simulated games Hernandez pitched this spring.
Moore mishandled a couple of pitches, prompting Wakamatsu to tinker with the young catcher's mechanics to improve the receiver's balance in his crouch.
"Balance is the most important thing for a catcher," Moore said. "If you don't have balance, you are always out of whack back there. I am more upright and putting more pressure on the opposite side I am going.
"It's easier for me to 'walk' out on pitches, easier for me to block pitches in the dirt, and easier to throw. I'm getting real comfortable with the new stance and love it."
The comfort level needs to be high to catch Hernandez, whose pitches move all over the place.
"Catching someone like Felix is what we sign up to do and train every day for," Moore said. "It's going to be fun."
Moore has quizzed Johnson about the Seattle ace, who tied for the league lead last season with 17 wild pitches.
"Rob told me to watch the ball come out of his hand. Sometimes the ball cuts on a certain pitch, sinks on other pitches. You just never know. The main thing is to snag everything he throws."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.