So here it starts. Felix Hernandez’s first spring outing came Tuesday when he delivered two scoreless innings for the Mariners in a messy 9-3 loss to Colorado at Salt River Fields.
He threw just 18 pitches, walked one, struck out none and his own assessment — which amounted to “meh” — is as good as any when grading one of the game’s top pitchers.
“Not bad,” Hernandez shrugged. “For the first time, pretty good. I walked somebody. That’s not good. After that, I was fine.”
Manager Lloyd McClendon offered Hernandez the opportunity for more work in the bullpen but, “I said, ‘No, I’m fine.’ ” So that was it.
Hernandez’s next start will come Sunday, which positioned him for a possible marquee matchup against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw at Peoria Stadium.
That won’t happen.
McClendon plans for Hernandez to start instead against a collection of minor league players on a practice field to avoid giving the Dodgers an advance look — the two clubs play April 13-15 in Los Angeles.
“We’re playing them so early,” McClendon explained. “I just don’t want them to see Felix.”
That’s fine, except ... barring rain in Oakland, the schedule doesn’t appear to line up for a Hernandez/Kershaw matchup in April — if the two aces, as expected, start the season openers.
McClendon, apparently, isn’t taking any chances. He is taking a similar approach Thursday with Hisashi Iwakuma, who won’t make the trip to Mesa, Arizona, to face Oakland.
The Mariners and Athletics play a three-game series from April 10-12 in Oakland before heading down the coast to Dodger Stadium.
“(Iwakuma is) pitching on the back field as well,” McClendon confirmed. “I don’t want them facing teams that we’re going to play early. I don’t like doing that. I’ll take any kind of edge we can get.”
Iwakuma could be in line to face Oakland in April, depending on where he slots in the Mariners’ rotation. Even if he doesn’t, the teams play 19 times as division rivals.
“And they just need to build up (arm strength and endurance),” McClendon said. “I don’t think they’re trying to make the club.”
King Felix professed not to care, saying: “He’s the boss. I don’t mind.” Besides, this is all prelude. Hernandez characterizes this spring as, “Normal. Real normal. I feel good. I’m just getting ready for the season.”
Hernandez offered a change-up for his first spring pitch, and Corey Dickerson rocked it to deep center before Austin Jackson ran it down.
Brandon Barnes then worked a walk before Carlos Gonzales grounded into a double play — all on nine pitches.
In the second inning, Justin Morneau popped-up to second, Wilin Rosario grounded to short and Michael McKenry flied to center. Again, Hernandez threw just nine pitches.
“I’m the same,” Hernandez said. “I’m just trying to get ready. I mean, it’s a great team. I’m excited, too. I need to get ready to be Felix again.”
Really, that’s all the Mariners want.
STAYING AT SHORT
Shortstops Brad Miller and Chris Taylor flipped infield roles Tuesday as Miller shifted to second base for the game against Colorado at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Taylor started at second base in the Mariners’ 4-3 victory over Cleveland on Monday.
McClendon said the move stems from Robinson Cano’s absence from camp following his grandfather’s death in the Dominican Republic. Cano is expected to return Friday to camp and start Saturday against Arizona.
Neither Miller nor Taylor is expected to play much at second once Cano returns. Nor is either likely to play much at second at Triple-A Tacoma if they fail to make the club.
“I think they would be shortstops,” McClendon said. “If one of them is not here, I can’t imagine they’ll go down and play second.”
That suggests shortstop Ketel Marte is likely to shift to second for the Rainiers.
Newcomer Kevin Correia, 34, threw his first bullpen workout since agreeing to a minor-league contract. Correia is a 12-year veteran who has a 76-95 record with five clubs. ... ESPN announced plans to televise the April 15 game, which takes place on Jackie Robinson Day, between the Mariners and Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.