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03/03/11 4:27 PM ET

Felix ready to go after simulated game

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez normally is the King of all things at Mariners camp, but the big man ran into a bigger man on Thursday.

Randy Johnson took time off from throwing snowballs to visit his former team, getting a chance to watch a simulated game by the American League's reigning Cy Young Award winner in the process.

Words of wisdom from the Big Unit before Hernandez took the field to throw his final warmup work prior to making his first Cactus League start next Monday?

"He told me I needed four more Cy Youngs," Hernandez said. "And 4,000 strikeouts just to get him."

And Felix's response?

"I told him, 'I'll be there. Don't worry,'" Hernandez said with a laugh.

The 24-year-old threw 33 pitches in his simulated game on the Mariners' main practice field Thursday morning, then pronounced himself ready and eager to get going.

Hernandez threw to an assortment of Minor League hitters in an informal setting in which he recorded five strikeouts while getting eight outs, while allowing one ball that likely would have been a bloop single if defenders were actually in place.

"It's been a while," Hernandez said. "I felt great."

Hernandez will make his Cactus League debut Monday, throwing three innings against Oakland.

"I'm ready," he said. "I'm feeling so good, man. I was throwing strikes, the ball was in the bottom of the zone, the breaking ball was good, the changeup was alright. Everything looked good."

Hernandez and fellow starter Jason Vargas are on slower schedules this spring than the rest of the Mariners' pitchers, all of whom have thrown at least one Spring Training game by now. Vargas will throw a simulated game Friday and follow Hernandez in the pitching order next week.

Hernandez, who threw an AL-leading 249 2/3 innings last year, will see limited official Cactus League action this spring. Pitching coach Carl Willis said he's backed Hernandez's schedule up from Opening Day on April 1 -- surprise, he will indeed be the club's Opening Day starter -- and several of his lead-up games fall against AL West opponents Oakland and Texas.

"I can pretty much assure you that's not going to happen," Willis said, "I've talked to some other pitching coaches about getting 'B' games against teams that aren't in our division. We don't want them getting too familiar with our guys.

"He'll get his work in down below [on the practice field] on those days," Willis said. "We'll make sure he's ready."

Hernandez, who went 13-12 with a 2.27 ERA last year, seems to already be champing at the bit to get going. On Thursday, in front of an assortment of coaches, teammates and team officials, he mowed through a series of Minor League batters who were overmatched particularly by his nasty sinker.

The simulated game was loosely played, with no outfielders and no attempt to keep track of outs. Instead, the point was to get Hernandez a workload similar to two innings in a regular game. He threw 19 pitches in his first time on the mound, recording four outs in the process.

Chaz Roe, the pitcher acquired from Colorado for Jose Lopez, then threw his own simulated half-inning while Hernandez sat on the bench. Hernandez then came back out and recorded four more outs on 14 pitches -- including two strikeouts -- before calling it a day.

Afterward, the youngster who has been competing in the Major Leagues since he was 19 was asked if he can still improve after last year's Cy Young season.

"I think I can be better. Why not?" he said. "You have to get better every year. We'll see."

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.