The King made his return to Tacoma.
It just didn’t last long — two innings.
What was off?
“Everything,” Felix Hernandez said.
Except his health. That , he said, was about the only thing that felt good Tuesday in a rehab start with the Tacoma Rainiers against the Reno Aces.
His third strikeout of the evening was his 50th pitch. It got him out of a horrid second inning that included a grand slam, and he exited with a 5-0 deficit.
“I was supposed to go four (innings) — I just got two,” Hernandez said. “The timing was off, I couldn’t get my rhythm. I felt weird. But pain free, and that’s the most important thing.
“It feels good. Not the result, but it feels good.”
It was almost like his last start — against the Detroit Tigers — when Hernandez left after two innings with what the Mariners would later learn was bursitis in his shoulder.
Hernandez needed 30 pitches to escape the second inning on Tuesday and Reno’s Ildemaro Vargas tagged his 1-0 high fastball for a grand slam to right-center field.
His fastball velocity appeared to sit between 89-92 mph.
He has another Cheney Stadium start slated for Sunday before he will return to the Mariners. He said it would be during a three-game series against the Texas Rangers from June 16-18.
No offense, Tacoma, but as much as the City of Destiny seemed to enjoy Hernandez, he said he wants nothing more than to be back in the Emerald City.
“I just want to go to Seattle,” Hernandez laughed. “I want to get there as soon as possible.”
But Cheney Stadium was filled with electricity to see Seattle’s King return to form.
The Cy Young winner exited the bullpen before the game to applause and got a pat on the back from Rainiers mascot, Rhubarb. This was where the 31-year-old Venezuelan made his first Triple-A start, on his 19th birthday 12 years ago.
“I was throwing cheese back then,” Hernandez said. “I remember that.”
Wilson High School’s JROTC presented the United States flag and students from Graham’s North Star Elementary sang the national anthem. Then Hernandez jogged out of the dugout, tipped his cap to home plate umpire Junior Valentine and skipped over the third-base line as he trotted to the mound to throw his first pitch.
There was no King’s Court, but fans pumped red cards with a Rainiers “R” blended with a “K.” They chanted “K, K, K” whenever Hernandez got to two strikes and he obliged with three strikeouts.
The first inning wasn’t so bad, other than needing 20 pitches and walking a batter. He escaped unscathed, striking out former teammate Ketel Marte.
Reno’s Socrates Brito led off the second inning with a ground ball to first that was ruled a single after Hernandez didn’t handle the toss from Daniel Vogelbach.
Jack Reinheimer followed with a single to center and Hernandez walked Zach Borenstein to load the bases. He struck out Kristopher Negron swinging on a 91-mph fastball before Hank Conger followed with a broken-bat RBI single to center.
Next was Vargas’ grand slam.
“Fastball up. He hit it pretty good,” Hernandez said.
Mariners manager Scott Servais had said before the game that Hernandez would make a second rehab start for Tacoma on Sunday at Cheney Stadium against Las Vegas.
He’s on the disabled list for the second time in two years and just the fourth time in his career in what had been an Ironman decade for Hernandez – throwing at least 200 innings for eight consecutive seasons and 190 for 10 straight years until that ended last year.
“That’s not me,” he said. “Two straight years on the DL, that’s not good.
“I just want to stay healthy. I’ll just get back at it Sunday.”