OAKLAND -- Felix Hernandez would like to pitch for Venezuela in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, which means the Mariners ace could miss a good chunk of Spring Training next year.
Hernandez said Sunday he's talked with the Mariners about playing in the tournament, just as he did in 2009 when Venezuela advanced to the semifinals on March 21 before he joined the club. That year, the regular season started on April 6 and Hernandez went on to pitch one of his best seasons for Seattle, going 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA.
He's already begun formulating an offseason training plan with Mariners trainer Rick Griffin to get ready for the earlier start. The 2013 WBC will run from March 2-19. Mariners camp typically opens with pitchers and catchers reporting in mid-February, with the first regular season game on April 1.
"I've been talking about that with Rick," Hernandez said. "I want to play. I played in 2009 and it was a great experience. I started working out a little early that year, but it was a great experience, and I want to be part of that."
Manager Eric Wedge said the WBC is a "personal choice" for players, and the club will work with those who want to play.
Ichiro Suzuki played for the champion Japan team in 2009, as did current Mariners Munenori Kawasaki and Hisashi Iwakuma. Ichiro now is with the Yankees and Kawasaki and Iwakuma will be free agents, so it's not certain they'll be back with Seattle.
Rookie pitcher Erasmo Ramirez is interested in playing for Nicaragua, and outfielder Michael Saunders said he'd welcome an invitation from Team Canada, which recently clinched a berth.
"I haven't been approached yet, but if I'm offered the opportunity it would be a great honor," Saunders said. "I had a chance to play in the Olympics, but during the '09 WBC I'd had shoulder surgery and couldn't play, and in '06 I was too young.
"I love representing my country, and it's always been a lot of fun," said Saunders. "Canadians are a tight fraternity. We all know each other and root for each other. So I'd love to play. But obviously I have to make sure I'm ready for the season next year before I'm representing my country. I'm a Mariner first."
Vargas proves durable throughout season
OAKLAND -- Jason Vargas didn't win his final start Saturday when a late-inning bullpen meltdown left him in a no-decision, but the Mariners lefty extended his career high in innings and continued establishing himself as a dependable part of Seattle's pitching future.
Vargas, 29, enters his final season of arbitration eligibility this offseason and thus is a year from free agency. He's certainly made a strong point to his value after going 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA in 217 1/3 innings.
Going into Sunday's games, Vargas was sixth in the Majors in innings behind the impressive list of Justin Verlander (238 1/3), R.A. Dickey (227 2/3), Felix Hernandez (226 2/3), Clayton Kershaw (219 2/3) and James Shields (218 2/3).
"I felt great about that," Vargas said of posting his second straight 200-plus inning season. "It just means I'm giving our team an opportunity to win and being somebody they can rely on. That's my main goal. Obviously I want to win games, but I'd rather be out there to keep us in it as long as possible."
Manager Eric Wedge said Vargas deserved to win 17 or 18 games this season.
"He put together a complete season and really came into his own this year," Wedge said.
Vargas has struggled in the second half in previous seasons, but this year he was 6-4 with a 3.55 ERA in 14 starts after the All-Star break.
"Being able to take the first half into the second half has been a struggle for me," he said. "So to do as well as I did after the break is awesome to me. It's that next step. That and being able to limit games that get out of control. I had a couple hiccups, but nothing really where I let the game get out of control."
Saunders within range of a 20-20 season
OAKLAND -- When Michael Saunders hit his 19th home run in Saturday's 7-4 loss to the A's, it moved him within one long ball from becoming the Mariners' first 20-20 man since Mike Cameron in 2002.
Manager Eric Wedge said that's a great reflection on the type of player Saunders has become in his breakout season.
"We talk about him being a complete player, and that's one of the indicators of it," Wedge said prior to Sunday's series finale with the A's. "He's just been so much better this year. He's really coming into his own and he's doing it with a complete game, whether it be at home plate or in the outfield or on the basepaths. I think he has somewhat of a leadership personality and persona, too, and I like that."
Saunders, who stole his 21st base earlier in Saturday's game, said he's not worrying yet about such accomplishments.
"Right now I'm not concerned with it," he said. "At the end of the year, I'll reflect on my performance. Sometimes numbers don't do a player justice. Once the year is over I'll reflect. But I've still got to take care of business and help the ballclub however I can [in] these last games."