It's fitting that Hernandez will make his season debut and first outing since landing a $175 million, seven-year contract against the Oakland Athletics .
The Seattle ace always faces them to start, or so it seems to the A's."A lot," Hernandez said with a smile. "I've faced the A's a lot."
Three times last season, in fact - first in the opening game in Tokyo, again in Seattle's 2012 Safeco Field debut, then once more back in Oakland for the A's home opener. The Mariners won the first two.
That's quite the fill of King Felix. The AL West champion A's will see Hernandez again Monday night to open the season at the Oakland Coliseum, with the pitcher fresh off the new contract from February that briefly made him baseball's highest-paid pitcher until Detroit's Justin Verlander topped him Friday."We're used to it," A's third baseman Josh Donaldson said, chuckling. "If there's a team that's used to facing Felix, it's us."
Hernandez, who turns 27 on April 8, even opted to sit out the World Baseball Classic for Venezuela to focus on this season. He went 13-9 with a 3.06 ERA in 33 starts last season, two years after capturing the AL Cy Young award."I don't care how many times you've done it. Starting on opening day never gets old," Hernandez said. "It's an honor, because there's so much anticipation leading up to that game. It's an exciting time and a fun time to be on the mound. That's especially true against on the road against division rival, when you know the crowd will be into it."
If the sellout crowd is anything close to comparable to that energized ballpark full of fans from last fall's special run, Hernandez will have a hard time not taking notice.
The A's won 94 games and became the first team in major league history to capture a division or pennant after trailing by five games with fewer than 10 to play, stunning the two-time reigning AL champion Texas Rangers on the season's final day. Oakland then lost in the deciding Game 5 of the AL division series to Detroit."I think everybody's ready. We've been waiting for opening day for a while now, for most of the guys here probably since the last out was made in Game 5," Donaldson said. "Everybody was diligent in the offseason getting their all their work in, now we're just ready for it to show."
Hernandez will try not to allow any fanfare to throw him off on Day 1."I don't do anything different, I just come to win every opening day," Hernandez said a day ahead of his sixth opening day start and fifth in a row. "I can't do anything different. I've just got to be the same guy."
Hernandez might need to mind Yoenis Cespedes in the middle of the order. The Cuban homered in two of his final three spring training games, including a three-run drive Saturday off San Francisco starter Ryan Vogelsong in a 4-3 victory over the World Series champion Giants.
Cespedes ended spring training on a 13-for-33 run, with all six of his home runs and 13 RBIs over the final 11 games.
The six home runs, which came after Cespedes batted just .179 in his first 11 games, are the most by an A's hitter in the spring since 2007."The tickets are sold. It's going to be a great game," Cespedes said. "Felix is really happy. He is a great player and has pitched so well. But I see this A's team as being better than last year. We have more balance."
Oakland sure hopes to carry over some momentum from what it accomplished in October, with a more experienced starting rotation to boot."I just think a lot of it has to do with confidence. Going into last year we knew that we could win but we hadn't," Donaldson said. "Last year, especially in the second half on, the success that we did have shows that we have a good team here and we have the talent and a good staff. We're ready to get out there and go, and win some games."
Typically, the pitchers are considered to be ahead of the hitters in the season's early stage. The A's hope they can challenge Hernandez, anyway."What's new, right?" A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We had like three Day 1s with him last year. There's good pitching in our division. He may be at the forefront of that. It's our draw. It seems like since I've been here we open up against Seattle and we get him. It's part of the deal."
Hernandez is as eager as everybody else to get going."I'm really prepared. Well, finely spring training is over, it was a long one," Hernandez said. "I feel as comfortable as I ever have going into this opening day. I trust the hitters we have and the guys playing behind me. I'm getting dialed in and ready for another season. I love playing for Seattle. I can't wait for this season to get started."
AP freelance writer Scott Bair contributed to this report.
|March 25, 2013||Josh Kinney||60-Day DL||Stress reaction, left shoulder|
|March 19, 2013||Brendan Ryan||Day-to-Day||Stiffness in neck|
|March 27, 2013||Hiroyuki Nakajima||15-Day DL||Strained left hamstring|
|March 26, 2013||Adam Rosales||15-Day DL||Strained left intercostal|
|March 23, 2013||Fernando Rodriguez||60-Day DL||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
|March 14, 2013||Fernando Rodriguez||Day-to-Day||Right elbow surgery - out for season|
|February 14, 2013||Grant Balfour||Day-to-Day||Right knee surgery - out 4-6 weeks|
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Felix Hernandez had his mind made up that he would get the Seattle Mariners ' season off to a strong start and provide a little bit of momentum on April 1.
No arguing that. He delivered against the defending AL West champions.
Hernandez struck out eight on opening day in his first start since signing a $175 million, seven-year contract in February, and the Mariners beat the Oakland Athletics 2-0 on Monday night.
"It feels pretty good," Hernandez said. "I was hoping to get us started the right way, and with a win it works out pretty good. It's pretty special."
King Felix surrendered one walk while pitching 7 2/3 scoreless innings. He didn't allow a hit until John Jaso doubled to left-center with one out in the fourth, only a couple of hours after the pitcher gifted his former backstop with a Rolex watch for catching his perfect game in August against the Rays.
Hernandez (1-0) outdueled Brett Anderson while making his sixth career opening day start and fifth in a row, retiring the first 10 batters of the game in order.
Franklin Gutierrez hit a two-run single in the fifth to break a scoreless tie, and it held up for Hernandez.
He gave way to Charlie Furbush after allowing Seth Smith 's two-out double in the eighth and a walk to Eric Sogard . Furbush walked Coco Crisp and Seattle manager Eric Wedge then went to Stephen Pryor , who got out of it on pinch-hitter Derek Norris ' groundout. Tom Wilhelmsen closed out the three-hitter.
There wouldn't be any walkoff magic in Game 1. Oakland led the majors with 14 such wins in 2012.
The Mariners snapped a seven-game losing streak to the A's, who had their second-longest unbeaten run in the rivalry over the past 20 years behind a 15-game winning stretch from April 7-Aug. 16, 2006.
They are well accustomed to King Felix, who started the clubs' season opener in Tokyo last spring, then Seattle's home opener against the A's and again in Oakland's home opener.
"It is a bit redundant that we see him as often as we do, such as last year - how many times, three?" A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He pitched great. He was pretty unpredictable tonight."
Anderson struck out the side in order in the first on 13 pitches, getting Gutierrez on three pitches. Then, Hernandez topped that in his first time off the mound with a seven-pitch, 1-2-3 inning.
Seattle hardly looked road weary after leaving the Arizona desert and spring training for an exhibition Saturday in Salt Lake City before a flight to the Bay Area and a workout Sunday at the Coliseum. Hernandez delivered a signature performance as Seattle kicked off a seven-game road trip to start the season - four games in Oakland followed by three against the White Sox before opening at Safeco Field on Monday against the Houston Astros .
Hernandez will try for career win No. 100 on Saturday in Chicago.
"Shhhhh, don't say it, not yet," he said. "It's going to be special, it's going to be good to finally get to 100. I'm going to try to do it in my second start."
The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner, who turns 27 on April 8, certainly showed on Day 1 he is plenty stretched out by tossing 109 pitches.
Jaso, traded by the Mariners to their division rival during the offseason, popped out on the second pitch he saw in the first before his fourth-inning double. Then in the sixth, he struck out swinging to end a 10-pitch at-bat and 22-pitch inning for Hernandez.
About 90 minutes before first pitch, Hernandez had a Rolex watch delivered from a clubhouse employee to Jaso, quite the thank-you gift for his part in the ace right-hander's perfecto.
"He broke up the no-hitter," Hernandez said. "I was going to say, `Dude, what time is it?"'
The A's had their yellow towel-waving sellout crowd of 36,067 back in force just like last fall during the club's remarkable run to the playoffs. Oakland lost in Game 5 of the AL division series to Detroit.
"It was opening day. It's going to be loud, a lot of people," Hernandez said. "I was just on my game, trying to make good pitches. ... They boo me, I said, `OK, yeah, I'm doing my job.' I know the people in Seattle were watching the game. It was like 50,000 people out there, it was crazy. I said, `C'mon, I've got to do something good."'
Anderson (0-1) allowed two runs and four hits in seven solid innings, struck out six and walked four while throwing 108 pitches in his first career start on opening day. The left-hander successfully returned last August following a 14-month recovery from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.
Anderson struck out Michael Morse to start the second then walked Justin Smoak on five pitches. After Kyle Seager singled off Anderson's leg, Jesus Montero grounded into a double play on which second baseman Sogard made a terrific diving stop and backhanded flip to shortstop Jed Lowrie in time for him to throw to first.
The Bay Area awoke to gray clouds and a steady, hard rain, only for the skies to clear and turn blue.
More than four hours before first pitch, ballpark workers with hand-held driers walked through the stands to clean up the seats while Seattle players ran around in right field throwing a football in shorts and T-shirts.
The Mariners, coming off a spring featuring a franchise-best 22 wins, began a season without Ichiro Suzuki for the first time in 13 years. He won the AL Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in 2001.
Notes: Hernandez has a 1.33 ERA with 41 Ks in his opening-day outings - 35 of those strikeouts in five opening starts vs. Oakland. He has allowed six earned runs in those appearances. ... His six starts on opening day matched Randy Johnson for most in club history. ... Anderson is 7-4 with a 1.83 ERA in 14 career starts against the Mariners. ... Oakland invited 15 season ticketholders onto the field for pregame introductions. ... The A's won the 2012 season series 12-7. If the recent pattern provides any indication, over the past seven seasons Oakland has won the even years - 2006, `08, `10 and `12 - and the Mariners the odd years of 2007, `09 and `11.