PEORIA, Ariz. — The countdown started Monday when Felix Hernandez made his spring debut for the Mariners in a split-squad game against Colorado at Peoria Stadium.
It’s just three weeks until Hernandez takes the mound April 4 in the regular-season opener at Texas. It will be the King’s eighth straight start in an opener and the ninth in his career.
"It was good," Hernandez said. "I’m happy to be out there again. A lot of guys swinging at first pitches, so you’re going to have days like that."
The numbers weren’t great: three runs and six hits in 2 1/3 innings. Hernandez struck out five and walked one while throwing 37 of 50 pitches for strikes.
"Our plan was to get ahead," catcher Chris Iannetta said. "We did that, and they swung, and they ran into some balls. The results really don’t matter. You just take away how does he feel?
"Is he healthy? He is. Did his stuff look good? Yes. That’s all that matters."
Hernandez lines up for three more spring starts before pitching the season opener. Manager Scott Servais hinted at his rotation by identifying right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma as the likely choice to pitch the season’s second game.
"Things can change," Servais said, "but that would be where we’re at right now. If Kuma pitches behind Felix, they’re certainly different styles versus what Taijuan (Walker) brings."
Servais also confirmed his preference "to separate the lefties, obviously, if you can." That positions newcomer Wade Miley, a lefty, to slot behind Iwakuma in the rotation with Walker drawing the fourth spot.
Miley seems likely to be the No. 3 because lefty James Paxton is a candidate for the rotation’s final job.
Even if right-hander Nathan Karns wins the nod over Paxton, that decision isn’t likely to be made before the Mariners begin to get Miley’s work schedule lined up for the regular season.
If Walker slots at No. 4, that positions him to start the home opener on April 8 against Oakland. It would also line up Hernandez’s first home start for April 10 against the Athletics.
"I don’t think we’ll have any issues (getting things lined up)," Servais said. "I like our group. I liked it this off-season, especially when Kuma came back. Everyone seems to be getting their feet under them."
New closer Steve Cishek shrugged off the soreness in biceps as a normal spring occurrence before throwing a 25-pitch bullpen workout.
"We all deal with soreness," he said. "I remember two years ago, my neck tweaked pretty good. You try not to rush anything and throw your mechanics off. We’re just being cautious right now."
Cishek said he threw all of his pitches and experienced no problems.
"Felt great," he said. "An they were pleased with it."
Cishek said the soreness surfaced after his March 6 outing against Texas.
"It was just a little more sore," he said. "We’re just taking our time. Everything is good. I’ll be in game pretty soon."
Servais said it’s important that Cishek get regular duty over the final few weeks in order to get any kinks out his delivery.
"That’s what makes him effective; he’s got a lot of moving parts," Servais said. "He’s a bigger guy who throws from down under. The timing issue and being consistent in his release point, it is important."
Lefty reliever Charlie Furbush is trying to stay upbeat as he works to rid himself of lingering post-throwing soreness in his shoulder. He is scheduled to play catch Tuesday after cutting short a Saturday flat-ground throwing session.
"It was very mild," he said, "but it was something that was still there. It’s been so long (dealing with the soreness), so I kind of know the good and the bad feelings. It wasn’t bad.
"It was like, `Ah, I’m still feeling something.’ I figured by this time I would have shaken all of the rust off."
Furbush had a 2.08 ERA in 33 appearances last season when forced to the sideline after a July 7 because of biceps tendinitis and what was subsequently diagnosed as a slight tear in his rotator cuff.
He underwent a non-surgical rehab program in the off-season.
"I do want to get on the mound and go," Furbush said, "but I think it’s just the life of a pitcher right now. It’s just a little tightness that I can’t seem to shake right now.
"It’s in a different area than last year, which is a good sign. Hopefully, I can play catch (Tuesday) and feel much better."
The Mariners got another taste of analytics in their pre-workout meeting when the staff details some advanced base-running metrics.
"With the data they have now at MLB," Servais said, "we have everybody’s average lead at first base over the last three years. And how does that rank among average in the league?
"We have a number of our base-stealers who are below average. If you’re a base-stealer, you should be quick enough to get out there and have enough athleticism to get back to base."
Servais said he wants players to "push the envelope" in an effort to understand their limits.
"It’s OK to get picked off in spring training," he said. "I know that fans go crazy. `Here we go again. It’s Mariners’ base-running.’ But no, it’s OK.
"I’d rather do that in spring training and get a comfort level than push it on guys when we get to Texas on April 4."
Reliever Tony Zych left camp Monday morning after being diagnosed with food poisoning…catcher Steve Clevenger is battling a fever and was also absent from Monday’s split-squad rosters…right-hander Cody Martin will start Tuesday’s game in Tempe because the Mariners want to limit the Angels’ exposure to lefty Wade Miley, will pitch four inning against minor-leaguers. Miley faced the Angels on March 5 in Peoria.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners