Felix: ‘I want to pitch. That’s why they have me here.’
Felix Hernandez will make his first start in 20 days on Sunday afternoon against the Angels in Anaheim as the Mariners ace returns from a strained left oblique muscle that occurred Sept. 2 at Kansas City. Hernandez threw two bullpen sessions earlier this week in Detroit to test the injury and regain his timing.
“I felt strong. Overall, I felt normal,” Hernandez said Saturday. “I just have to stay normal and not be too jumpy, try not to rush to the plate. It’s going to be tough, but I can make adjustments.”
The durable right-hander isn’t used to missing time. He’s pitched made at least 30 starts ever year for the last seven seasons. He’s never thrown less than 190 innings since breaking into the rotation full time in 2006 at age 20 and has hit 200 or more innings the last five years.
He’s at 29 starts and 194 1/3 innings this year, with the potential of one more start after Sunday.
Why push it now for a team that is 20 games under .500 going into Saturday’s game with the Angels.
“Because I want to pitch. That’s why they have me here,” he said. “I need to pitch. And you know I’m a competitor. I just want to get out on the mound.”
Hernandez has been a bundle of pent-up energy the last two weeks in the clubhouse.
“It’s really hard,” he said of being inactive. “I’ve been bored. I don’t know what to do. It’s different.”
Manager Eric Wedge said he’ll be careful with the franchise pitcher, who has struggled with the Angels in the past (8-13, 3.95 ERA in 34 career starts).
“We’ll watch and see how easy or hard he has to work,” Wedge said. “He feels strong and feels good. He should be fine, but we’ll monitor from inning to inning and communicate with him.”
Is there a pitch limit in place?
“No,” said Wedge. “We have something in mind, but we’re still going to work off of him.”
Rookie Mike Zunino will catch Hernandez, just the fifth time those two have been paired this year. Wedge said it’s important Zunino get time with the staff ace.
“I think he’s handled him well, but it is a challenge to catch Felix because he is so good,” Wedge said. “His ball moves all over the place. But those are two guys that are going to have to establish a relationship with each out there and I’m sure they will.”