Present, Future Sparkle on Mound for Seattle
Aside from nearly having their American League Cy Young Award winner undressed by the first batter he faced, things went swimmingly for the Mariners on Monday, as Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda helped pitch Seattle to a 6-3 victory over the A’s.
Pardon the Mariners faithful for holding their collective breath after Oakland leadoff hitter David DeJesus lined a single straight at Hernandez on the very first at-bat, leaving Seattle’s star sprawled on his back on the mound.
“I told him, ‘First game and you hit a line drive at my face? C’mon man,” Hernandez said with a laugh.
“I’m just glad it didn’t clip him, that’s for sure,” said Mariners manager Eric Wedge.
Hernandez gave up a few hard-hit balls — as well as five hits and a run — before being lifted after throwing 53 pitches in 2 2/3 innings. But it was his first Cactus League action of the spring, and the first time he’d been in a real game since beating the Rangers 3-1 on Sept. 28 in his final start last season.
The Mariners had planned to give Hernandez a three-inning start, but after two singles and a walk extended his third, Wedge sent in Justin Miller to get the final out and keep Hernandez’s pitch count reasonable.
Hernandez said he felt fine and, as usual, would have gone longer if allowed. Was he weary at all?
“C’mon man, tired?” he said. “I haven’t pitched since last year.”
Fair enough. Hernandez did surrender a pair of singles in the first and a two-out double in the second, but escaped unscathed both times. In the third, Conor Jackson singled, and then stole second and scored on a base hit by Kevin Kouzmanoff. When Hernandez walked Chris Carter, Wedge gave him the hook.
“I was just throwing strikes. That’s all I need to do,” Hernandez said. “See if my sinker is working, and it was. I’m still alive after that line drive, you know? That’s all I was looking for.”
Oakland manager Bob Geren figured his team fared as well as could be hoped for against its division’s ace.
“I thought we hit the ball pretty hard against the Cy Young Award winner,” Geren said. “It’s his first time out, but he went almost three innings and was throwing the ball well. We squared up quite a few balls. We had some pretty good contact against him.”
Still, Wedge said he saw exactly what he wanted out of Hernandez’s spring debut.
“He got up to where he needed to be pitch-count wise, he threw the ball well and it was good to see him out there,” Wedge said. “He’s been doing everything he needs to be doing here in camp.”
Hernandez did say he wanted to cut his midgame interview short so he could go watch Pineda, the 22-year-old Dominican native who followed him on the mound.
Pitching his second game of the spring, Pineda again threw two scoreless innings, this time allowing a single and two walks.
“The pitcher who follows Felix, I think it’s a little difficult, you know, because he’s nasty,” Pineda said.
The club’s top rookie prospect has some nasty in him as well. Though he wasn’t perfect in his second outing, he ran his shutout streak to four innings as his introduction to Major League competition continued.
“You learn from every different hitter,” Pineda said. “You learn a little bit more, a little bit more.”
Pineda said Hernandez’s constant advice is to keep working hard, but the Cy Young winner — who broke into the Major Leagues himself at 19 — said he isn’t giving his young teammate too much advice.
“He’s got pretty good stuff,” Hernandez said. “I don’t have to tell nothing to that guy. He’s unbelievable.”
Pineda threw two perfect innings last week against the Diamondbacks. On Monday, Kouzmanoff touched him with a single to right in the fifth inning, and he wound up throwing 40 pitches over his two frames.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” said Wedge. “He did a good job with his fastball. He continues to be confident with his secondary stuff and is able to slow it down when he needs to, which is always nice to see with a young pitcher.”