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Mariners ace Hernandez focuses on fastball in spring debut


    Seattle pitcher Felix Hernandez participated in a drill during spring training baseball practice in Peoria, Ariz., on Feb. 15.

GLENDALE, Ariz. >> Felix Hernandez pitching in February is an aberration.

But there was the Seattle ace today, making his spring debut as the Mariners beat the Chicago White Sox split squad 8-1.

Hernandez gave up one run and three hits in two innings. He threw 33 pitches, walked one and struck out none, and also got a pair of groundball double plays.

The Mariners normally hold Hernandez out of early spring training games. He did not make his initial appearance last year until March 14. It was March 10 in 2015.

But with the World Baseball Classic looming and Hernandez joining the Venezuelan team Monday, there is a sense of urgency to get him ready sooner.

“I feel real strong,” Hernandez said after his outing. “I feel real good. I feel healthy and I’m happy.”

Hernandez is scheduled to make one more start for the Mariners on Sunday against Oakland.

“The next one is going to be different,” Hernandez said. “I’ll probably throw more pitches and just be ready for my first start in Mexico.”

Venezuela’s first game is March 10 against Puerto Rico.

Hernandez focused on fastball command against the White Sox.

“I’ve got to command my fastball a little bit more,” he said. “I was throwing a four-seamer and a two-seamer. I was falling behind a couple of times in the second inning and I got hit.”

“I threw a lot of fastballs today and it looks pretty good. The results tell me that it works fine. I was 100 percent. I was throwing everything. The slider was really good. It was sharp. The curve was good, too. The changeup I still have to work on it.”

Hernandez, who turns 31 in April, missed six weeks last season with a right calf strain, his first time on the disabled list since 2008. His 25 starts and 153 1/3 innings were career lows, and he went 11-8 with a 3.82 ERA.

Most alarming is his diminishing fastball velocity. His fastball average was 90.54 last season. In his 2010 Cy Young season, it was 94.13 and in 2015 he averaged 92.1.

He intensified his offseason workout schedule and added 17 pounds of muscle. He said he was happy with his velocity against the White Sox.

“I thought Felix looked good,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He threw a lot of fastballs today, which was good to see. The velocity was good, 90 to 92.”

“I thought he was more aggressive with the fastball in trying to get that going. We all know his secondary stuff is really good. But I was happy to see it. I think he felt good about it. The ball was coming out good,” he said. “A step in the right direction.”

Veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz, acquired by the Mariners in a November trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, said he thinks King Felix can return to be a dominant force.

“He still has the stuff there,” Ruiz said. “We’ve got to mix it a little bit. He’s going to be fine. The key is he’s very aggressive. His fastball is coming out real good.”

“What was impressive today was everything was down late. He threw everything. I know it’s his first game, but for the most part, he was making good pitches. It was fun,” he said.

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