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02/24/11 6:38 PM EST

Felix throws with hitters in the box

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez took the mound for the first time for live batting practice Thursday, though the five batters he faced were ordered not to swing and just tracked the ball while he threw about 35 pitches.

Hernandez is on a slightly slower process than most of the pitching staff, along with Jason Vargas, as the Mariners attempt to ease his workload.

"It felt good," Hernandez said. "Not bad for the first time since last season. Nothing different."

The animated Hernandez gave a little hop after throwing his last pitch, clearly feeling ready to compete. But there wasn't much competition on this day as Chone Figgins, Brendan Ryan, Dustin Ackley, Greg Halman and Carlos Peguero all just stood in the box and watched his pitches sail past.

"That part is boring," Hernandez said. "And it's our team, so it's way different."

Hernandez will throw an actual live batting practice session Saturday, then a simulated game next week before getting his first Cactus League action.

"We're just slow-playing him a little bit to where he doesn't up the ante too early," Wedge said.

One guy who did get the full dose of Hernandez on Thursday was catcher Miguel Olivo, who had to deal with the assortment of nasty pitches the 24-year-old likes to unleash.

"He caught me before," Hernandez said, "But I was a little younger then. I didn't have a slider or the good sinker."

At one point Thursday, Olivo unleashed a loud expletive after Hernandez handcuffed him. What was that pitch?

"Sinker," Hernandez said with a devilish chuckle.

Gutierrez returns to Seattle for stomach tests

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez missed Thursday's workout in Peoria after flying back to Seattle on Wednesday night to have a lingering stomach issue checked out by doctors.

Gutierrez had problems with his stomach last year, but never missed any playing time. He went to a doctor again this offseason in Venezuela, but no problem was diagnosed.

But when the issue continued this spring, the Mariners elected to have him fly to Seattle as "a proactive" measure, according to manager Eric Wedge.

"We want to make sure we stay ahead of it so he doesn't have some of the same issues he had last year," Wedge said.

Gutierrez hadn't missed any of the workouts this spring, but the issue had flared up "on and off," according to Wedge.

Michael Saunders was working in center field during Thursday's practice and Wedge said Jody Gerut, Ryan Langerhans and Gabe Gross are also candidates to fill in when needed, along with some of the young prospects in camp.

But Wedge said he's optimistic the issue isn't serious and indicated Gutierrez will play in Friday's intrasquad game if he returns in time.

"We'll see what they come up with, if anything, and go from there," Wedge said. "There's no reason to speculate."

Wedge, who managed Gutierrez in Cleveland earlier in his career, said he would like to give the 28-year-old more time off this season regardless. Gutierrez played 152 games last season and 153 in '09.

One move Wedge won't make is using versatile Chone Figgins in center. Figgins, who started 212 games at that position during his career with the Angels, will focus strictly on third base.

"I've told him we'll keep him right at third base and let him stay put there," Wedge said. "I'm not going to mess with him."

Datz barely avoids injury during drill

PEORIA, Ariz. -- New Mariners third-base coach Jeff Datz was running a popup drill Thursday morning when he nearly launched a ball off his own noggin from high in the sky.

Datz, standing at home plate shooting balls in the air with a pitching machine to various defenders, tried to give catcher Miguel Olivo a shot and then stood stock-still, never flinching a muscle, as the straight-up fly came thundering back down just inches from where he stood.

"Thank the good Lord," Datz said afterward, shaking his still-intact head.

Eric Wedge, his manager for seven seasons in Cleveland as well, chuckled as he recounted the near miss for the man they call "Polar Bear" because of his towering frame.

"We about made a trip to the emergency room right there," Wedge said. "He wasn't exactly hopping around either. He just stood there like a tree. The thing about cut his head in half, but it missed him. Came down with a pretty good thump though, right there."

Wedge said he's never seen a coach take a shot direct in the head, but recalled a time when he smacked his own bean into the top of a dugout when jumping up to avoid a foul ball during a Minor League game ... and realized moments later he had blood pouring down his face. He didn't want his coach going through the same thing, though he said it probably wouldn't have taken the big man down.

"They don't call him the Polar Bear for no reason," Wedge said. "He probably would have still been standing up. Would have been a little wobblier though ..."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.