PEORIA, Ariz. — Felix Hernandez says he’s healthy and feeling good — and that nothing else matters — as he prepares for his start Monday in the Mariners’ season opener against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.
“Oh, man, I can’t wait to get back to Seattle,” he said Friday prior to the club’s final spring home game, “First of all, it’s way too hot out here. I’ve just got to get back to my cold weather. I’m ready for that.”
So forget the ugly spring stats: 0-3 in four Cactus League starts in which he allowed 14 runs on 13 hits and four walks in just 12 1/3 innings.
“Really?” he barked in response. “I’m not worried about spring numbers. (Heck) no. I’ll be fine. I know myself, and I’ll be good. Everything’s healthy, and I feel good. This is spring training…”
Manager Lloyd McClendon agrees.
“Do you know how he did last year in spring training?” McClendon asked. “Because I don’t know. I know what he did when the season started. I know what he did when it mattered. So, no, I have no concerns at all.”
Well, for the record…Hernandez was 2-0 last spring but not particularly sharp in his four starts — giving up eight runs and 13 hits in 13 1/3 innings.
He then put together, perhaps, the finest season of his career in going 15-6 and leading the league with a 2.14 ERA. He also led the league in fewest walks and hits per nine innings and tied for the league lead with 34 starts.
“He’s one of the toughest, if not the toughest, pitcher in the league,” said new teammate Nelson Cruz, the 2014 home run champ. “It’s nice to not think about having to face Felix again.”
Monday will be Hernandez’s eighth overall and seventh consecutive start on opening day. Both are club records. His seventh start in a row figures to become the longest current streak for any pitcher.
Justin Verlander had started the last seven openers for Detroit but will begin the season on the disabled list. CC Sabathia has a six-year streak, like Hernandez, but the Yankees plan to start Masahiro Tanaka.
“It always means a lot,” Hernandez said. “Opening day is opening day. It’s the start of a new season. That means a lot…It’s going to be fun. In my mind, I’ll just be thinking, `Throw a good game.’”
Hernandez is rarely better than on opening day.
He beat the Angels last season in Anaheim by limiting them to two earned runs over six innings in a 10-3 victory. He is 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA overall in his seven previous openers.
“It’s going to be good (on Monday),” Hernandez said. “It’s going to be fun. We’ve got the team to go all of the way. We look good on paper. We’ve just got to go out there and execute and do our thing. That’s all.”
It wasn’t just last year that Hernandez struggled in spring training before regaining his form once the season started. He gave up 15 runs and 25 hits in 14 innings prior to the 2009 season — and then went 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA.
But this was his worst spring in terms of ERA, although much of the damage came Tuesday in his final start when he gave up seven runs to the Indians and failed to get out of the second inning.
“It was my legs,” Hernandez said. “I couldn’t feel my legs. I think I was dehydrated. But I’ll be fine. I’m good right now, physically. I don’t know what happened. Don’t worry about it, OK?”