The most recognizable faces of the Seattle Mariners – from Icihro Suzuki to Franklin Gutierrez – were in Peoria Stadium on today for the annual Fanfest.
Briefly, so was the the man most fans wanted to see, Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez.
Hernandez signed autographs, then was carted to the practice fields, where he stretched, then threw live batting practice to hitters
Few people knew where to find him, and after throwing he went directly to the clubhouse for ice.
All part of the plan, said pitching coach Carl Willis.
“We’re making him take it slow, and he understands,” Willis said. “It’s a lot like last September, when he didn’t make his final start. He understood. He didn’t like it, but he understood, and that’s what it’s like now.
“Realistically, Felix is ready to pitch now. He’s in tremendous shape.”
And yet he won’t pitch in an exhibition game until later this week, three, four or five games into the Cactus League schedule.
“We’re committed to having Felix strong from April through the end of the season, not just in February and March,” Willis said.
So Felix throws quiet bullpens and faces hitters on practice field two while teammates play intrasquad games and practice in the Peoria ballpark.
“I want to pitch, it’s their job to protect me,” Hernandez said of the coaching staff. “I’m on the same schedule I was a year ago, and that worked out pretty good.”
Yes it did. In a 101-loss season for his team, Hernandez won the American League Cy Young Award.
On Saturday, he rated his fastball so-so, his curve good and his changeup very good.
“I told one hitter it was coming and he still swung and missed,” Felix said.
There’s only one drawback to not facing hitters from another team, he said.
“I don’t like to work inside to my own hitters,” he said. “But there’s plenty of time.”