PEORIA, Ariz. – Felix Hernandez has been asked if he’s all right so many times this spring that when a reporter approached him in the Seattle Mariners clubhouse on Sunday, he didn’t even wait for a question.
“I’m fine,” he said.
The ace of the staff, the projected opening day starter and the man who worked 239 innings last season, the 23-year-old Hernandez was initially scheduled to throw a bullpen session Sunday. But didn’t.
“He played long toss, instead,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “He’ll throw a bullpen on Tuesday. Everything is going well.”
Given two pitchers, Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee, capable of winning 20 games apiece, the Mariners are bringing those two staff anchors along slowly. So slowly, in fact, that the media has noticed and wondered if both men are completely healthy.
They are, Wakamatsu insists. There is a plan in place, and the Mariners are following it.
“The first bullpen Felix threw this spring, it looked like he was throwing 100 mph,” Wakamatsu said, “and that’s exactly what we didn’t want. We’re trying to limit the innings Felix and Cliff throw this spring, and the intensity with which they throw early on.
“They’re both competitive guys. You put Felix on the mound, he’s going to go hard. So we’re not putting him on the mound as much right now.”
Like a couple of thoroughbreds who see other horses running, Hernandez and Lee are ready to join in.
“I’m fine physically, but I throw when they tell me to throw,” Lee said. “They’ve got a plan and I’m good with it. I’ve played catch, I’ve played long toss. My arm feels great.”
Which is precisely how the Mariners want it to feel. For now, the halters stay on.
Won’t somebody please think of the bench coach?
Milton Bradley and Chone Figgins have become the Mariners’ exhibits A and B when it comes to being selective in batting practice.
“Most players get in the cage during BP and swing at everything you throw them – and 50 percent of the pitches you throw them are pitches they wouldn’t swing at in a game,” Wakamatsu said.
Not Bradley and not Figgins.
“They won’t swing at a pitch outside the zone they want to hit in,” Wakamatsu said. “It doesn’t matter who’s throwing or how frustrated the guy throwing BP gets, they won’t swing at bad balls.”
Wakamatsu pointed that out to the team, and the result Sunday was players swinging more selectively. So selectively that, in the cage next to the one in which Wakamatsu was throwing, bench coach Ty Van Burkleo was throwing more balls that weren’t being swung at.
“Nice idea,” he deadpanned, stretching his arm and kidding his manager.
Affable Ryan Rowland-Smith has been a popular spring interview, mostly he said because he never turns one down. “Basically, there’s three questions I get asked: What are Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee like? How’s camp going? And surfing. Everyone asks me about my surfing,” Rowland-Smith said. For the record, Felix and Lee are great guys, camp has been wonderful and Rowland-Smith loves surfing. ... Rain in Peoria kept the team off the practice fields, and more is forecast today. The team got its work done in covered batting cages. ... Newest camp arrivals were broadcasters Dave Niehaus and Rick Rizzs, in-house to bone up before games begin later this week. ... Sleep in today: Hoping the fields will dry out as the day wears on, the Mariners won’t take the field until 11 a.m. today – an hour later than usual – and then try to play their eight-inning-plus intrasquad game about 1 p.m. ... Though Bradley figures to hit third or fourth in Seattle’s lineup, when Wakamatsu asked him if he had a preference, Bradley responded: “I’ll hit anywhere you want me to.”