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03/25/10 8:37 PM ET

Felix displays pinpoint accuracy

Mariners ace strikes out seven in Cactus game vs. Tribe

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Perhaps his name should be upgraded to Emperor Felix. On days like this, which are becoming routine, "King" seems derogatory for Felix Hernandez.

Hardly breaking a sweat in his penultimate outing prior to his Opening Night assignment, Hernandez on Thursday three-hit Cleveland through the first five innings of the Mariners' 3-1 Cactus League loss.

"I felt too strong. My command was good, the slider was good, the sinker was the best," said Hernandez, whose streak without an earned run in exhibition play ended at 12 innings in his final frame of work.

No matter, to the Indians chieftains tracking spring style, not spring stats.

"Quality stuff ... rhythm and tempo, everything was good," said pitching coach Rick Adair. "Him saying he felt too strong is a good thing. The ball is coming out of his hands the way it did when he was on that roll last year."

Bench coach Ty Van Burkleo, who managed the Seattle split-squad here while Don Wakamatsu handled the game against the Royals in Surprise, said Hernandez "looked great. His stuff was outstanding."

This might have been the final Cactus League tuneup for last season's Cy Young Award runner-up to the Royals' Zack Greinke. Hernandez's next scheduled throw day is March 30, but since the Mariners are off that day, he might fine-tune in a Minor League game for his April 5 assignment in Oakland.

On Thursday, Hernandez allowed the three hits and one earned run in five innings, during which 11 of the 21 men he faced didn't hit the ball. Seven of them struck out, but four others walked. Of the 10 who did make contact, only one reached the outfield.

It was his longest Cactus League outing, and was expected to be even longer. But the four walks, all in his final two innings, pushed him to the verge of his 90-pitch limit. Hernandez departed with 88, of them 48 strikes.

"The walks ... I was missing my this much," Hernandez said, holding his thumb and index finger two inches apart. "The sinker was sinking too much. I'm not worried. I'm out there just trying to control myself."

Without sounding critical, Adair felt plate umpire Dan Bellino deserved more credit for the walks -- all in a nine-batter sequence in the fourth and fifth innings -- than did Hernandez blame.

"Three of the four, two definitely, could have gone either way. He was making quality pitches, but 10-12 calls didn't go his way," Adair said.

Entering with 7 2/3 shutout innings on his spring card, Hernandez finally allowed a run in the first, not without much help.

Second baseman Chone Figgins roamed up the middle to snare Shin-Soo Choo's hard grounder with two outs in the first, but lost his grip on the ball as he reared back to throw to first, resulting in an infield single. Travis Hafner drilled a hard single to center, then Jhonny Peralta bounced to third baseman Chris Woodward -- who sailed his throw to second into right field for a throwing error that escorted Choo home.

This was stop-the-presses stuff -- Hernandez allowed no more than one run in more than half of his 2009 starts (18 of 34). It was also stop-the-Indians-offense stuff: They would get only one other hit off him, albeit it was a one-out double down the third-base line by Michael Brantley in the fifth that converted Hernandez's control lapse into the losing run.

The hold-back approach with Hernandez, following his frantic 2009 which included a World Baseball Classic stint with Venezuela then 238 2/3 innings with the Mariners, appears to be working perfectly.

"He came in in good shape," Adair said. "The 240 innings for last season were a concern, but he has responded well."

"If he pitches like this all year, he will have a great year. When you sit this close," said Van Burkleo, motioning toward the third-base bench, "you really see the life on his pitches."

That close, Van Burkleo could also see the life in Milton Bradley's legs.

Bradley, free of the sore legs that habitually harass him through Spring Training, drew a fifth-inning walk to launch him on a little basepath adventure.

Bradley stole second. Then Bradley stole third. Finally, when Ryan Garko beat a ball into the ground charged from third by Peralta, Bradley tried to score.

The ball beating him by about 15 feet did not stop Bradley from trying to run through catcher Lou Marson who, to his credit, held onto the ball for the out.

Afterwards, Bradley simply smiled about that sequence. "Just playing the game hard," he said.

Both steals had been on his own.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.