PEORIA, Ariz. — Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez is set to start on opening day for the 10th straight year.
Manager Scott Servais made the announcement Sunday.
Hernandez will make his 10th consecutive and 11th opening day start overall when the Mariners host the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night.
“First of all, it’s an honour. Ten straight with one team is really, really an honour for me,” Hernandez said.
The right-hander was slowed in spring training this year by a line drive that struck him in the pitching arm Feb. 26, leaving a deep bruise. Hernandez made only one more exhibition start after that, pitching 3 2/3 innings Saturday against the Cubs.
Hernandez said after the injury and recovery from it, he didn’t doubt he’d be chosen for opening day.
Servais said he made the decision after Hernandez pitched well and felt fine following the outing against the Cubs. Hernandez is coming off an injury-plagued 2017 season.
“It’s not about one game. Our season’s about 162. Felix has earned the right, he is healthy, he’s had a good spring training, other than the fact that he hasn’t thrown a lot of innings,” Servais said. “Everything else we’ve asked him to do has been off the chart. I’m excited for him and to get him out there.”
Hernandez will be monitored and isn’t expected to throw in excess of 80 to 85 pitches or five or six innings Thursday, he said. Servais hopes he can give the Mariners “a competitive start.”
Hernandez was limited by injuries and went 6-5 in 16 starts over 86 2/3 innings last year, the lowest totals he’s had since becoming a full-time major league starter in 2006. He said last month when reporting for spring training that he thinks he can make more than 26 starts this year.
“Last year was tough, I’ve never been on the (disabled list) for that long. I’m still healthy and I can help this team win,” Hernandez said.
A month shy of turning 32, Hernandez had a pair of long disabled list stints last year because of right shoulder inflammation and bursitis. Servais said he felt Hernandez would be fine in the opener at Safeco Field.
“I feel good about putting him out there and I know he’ll compete his tail off,” Servais said. “We all know Felix is an adrenalin guy and he gets fired up when the house is full of fans and he feeds off it. He’ll handle it. But he’s deserving of it and his track record speaks for itself.”
Hernandez welcomes the moment, especially being at home.
“He knows I can compete, that’s why he gave me the ball,” Hernandez said. “I love the big crowds and big stage and all that stuff.”
Servais said Hernandez is in the best spot he’s ever seen him, in terms of being a leader among his teammates and taking on a bigger role in the clubhouse.
“I asked him a question the other day in front of the whole group, ‘What completes Felix Hernandez?”’ Servais said. “He looked around the clubhouse and said to his teammates, ‘It’s pitching in the playoffs with you guys.”’
Servais said lefty James Paxton will start the second game against Cleveland, followed by Mike Leake and Marco Gonzales in the rotation.
NOTES: The Mariners announced the signing of long reliever-spot starter Wade LeBlanc on Sunday. The lefty spent part of 2016 with Seattle and was recently released by the New York Yankees. … Projected starting LF Ben Gamel and his replacement, Ichiro Suzuki, are working their way back from injuries and may not be ready for opening day. Suzuki will play a minor league game on Monday, and if neither he nor Gamel are ready than Guillermo Heredia could start on opening day. . 1B Daniel Vogelbach will make the opening day roster, Servais said. Vogelbach was hitting .388 this spring with six home runs going into Sunday’s game. … Paxton, in his final tuneup, allowed two earned runs on six hits with six strikeouts and a walk in five innings on Sunday.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS