GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Baseball’s most famous faux archer is pondering changes in his delivery. No, no new pitches. And certainly no plans to sprint to the mound from the bullpen in response to the new pace-of-play clock.
Mariners closer Fernando Rodney is adamant, in fact, that he won’t alter his (let’s call it) deliberate pace in navigating his bullpen-to-mound stroll.
“I’m going to try (to follow the rule),” he said, “but I’m not going to come running in from the bullpen because a clock is on. No. Sometimes, you come into a one-run game. You need to be relaxed in your breathing.
“You can fine me, but I’m going to come in my normal time.”
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But Rodney is reviewing his iconic arrow-shoot pantomime that punctuates each of his saves. It might — might — have a new look this season. Maybe a little different styling. Maybe.
“I’m not sure,” he teased. “I’m going to look and see if it can get better.”
Rodney offered no hints Sunday when he made his spring debut by working around a two-out walk for a scoreless third inning in the Mariners’ 10-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
“I thought, mechanically, he was sound,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I really wasn’t concerned about velocity. I just wanted to see him out there and getting his work in. He did that pretty efficiently.”
No arrows, of course.
Arrows don’t fly in the third inning of spring games.
“It was a good workout,” Rodney said. “I’m just trying to get ready for opening day. That’s my thing right now — to try to get ready for opening day. Don’t try to thing about what happened today. Just try to prepare myself.”
Rodney keyed the Mariners’ bullpen renaissance a year ago after agreeing Feb. 13 to a two-year deal for $14 million. He then led the majors with 48 saves, which matched a career high and broke the club record.
More important, his arrival stabilized the relief corps, which topped the majors with a 2.59 ERA. Pretty much the same unit a year earlier, without Rodney, posted a 4.58 ERA that ranked 29th among the 30 clubs.
“That’s the importance of having a closer,” McClendon said. “It allows everybody else to fall into the slots they need to be in.
“The worst thing you can do to a bullpen is to put guys in positions where they’re not ready to succeed.”
And now? Is this baseball’s best bullpen?
“We have the talent, we have the pieces,” Rodney said, “and this year could be more exciting because they’ve got more experience. We’ve got a good bullpen, but I don’t like to say we’ve got the best.”
He then paused and growled out a chuckle before adding: “Maybe we’re going to be No. 2.”
Rodney is within reach of a personal — and unprecedented — milestone. Since he also had 48 saves in 2012 while pitching for Tampa Bay, he is one of just six closers in history to reach that figure in multiple seasons.
The others are Eric Gagne (2002, 2003), Mariano Rivera (2001, 2004), Jim Johnson (2012, 2013), Rod Beck (1993, 1998) and Dennis Eckersley (1990, 1992).
No pitcher has ever done it three times.
“Maybe I’ll have a chance,” he said. “I feel healthy, believe me.”
So, is it official? Will Felix Hernandez start April 6 in the Mariners’ season opener against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field?
“You guys have somebody better?” McClendon parried in his Sunday morning news briefing. “I’d say it’s a real good chance — 99.9999 percent chance — that he’ll be starting opening day. Heck, they’d run me out of town if he’s not out there?”
Hernandez started the Mariners’ last six openers and seven of the last eight. He is 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA in those games.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia previously announced plans to start right-hander Jered Weaver in the opener.
CANO LEAVES CAMP
Second baseman Robinson Cano left camp Saturday due to the death of his grandfather in the Dominican Republic.
McClendon said there was no firm date for Cano’s return.
Cano is 2-for-5 in two games.
Lefty Danny Hultzen is tentatively scheduled to pitch one inning Wednesday against Colorado at Peoria Stadium as the next step in his recovery from major shoulder surgery.
Hultzen hasn’t pitched in a game situation since lasting just two innings Sept. 1, 2013 while pitching for Triple-A Tacoma against Sacramento. He underwent surgery on Oct. 1, 2013.
The Mariners selected Hultzen, 25, with the second overall pick in the 2011 draft. He was 14-8 with a 2.82 ERA in 32 minor-league starts prior to his surgery.
Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez’s comeback is on hold after he was diagnosed with a tightness in his right groin after leaving Saturday’s game against the Chicago White Sox in Glendale.
“The initial diagnosis is it wasn’t as bad as they (initially) thought it was,” McClendon said. “We’ll give him a couple of days off and try to get him back out there.”
Gutierrez, 32, didn’t play last season in an attempt to recover from gastrointestinal issues. He spent the five previous years with the Mariners and returned to the club by signing a minor-league deal on Jan. 26.
Lefty James Paxton threw a 40-pitch bullpen with no problems from the sore forearm that bothered him earlier in the spring. He is tracking for a spring debut on March 17 against the White Sox…Cano’s absence turned into a starting assignment Sunday for rookie D.J. Peterson at first base. Previous plans called for Willie Bloomquist to start at first, but he shifted to second base to replace Cano….Lefty Roenis Elias will pitch Tuesday in a piggyback format behind Hernandez against the Rockies at Salt River Fields. Elias is scheduled for three innings after working two scoreless innings last Thursday in a start against San Diego…Why did the Mariners shift Hernandez up one day to pitch Tuesday? Had he pitched Wednesday, as previously planned, his next turn would have been the March 16 open date. Rather than have Hernandez pitch against minor-leaguers, the Mariners moved him up one day.