Minor Leaguer takes Felix deep, but ace 'happy'

Mariners' Opening Day starter on track for March 14 Cactus debut

Minor Leaguer takes Felix deep, but ace 'happy'

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez faced hitters for the first time this spring on Friday, throwing batting practice to a group of Minor Leaguers, and he said he's on schedule with his early preparation geared toward Opening Day on April 4 in Texas.

Hernandez threw about 40 pitches, and he will progress to a simulated game on Wednesday before making his Cactus League debut on March 14 against the Rockies in a 1:10 pm. PT game at Peoria Stadium that will be available live on MLB.TV.

Spring Training: Tickets | Schedule | More

"I was just getting the feel of my pitches and trying to throw strikes," Hernandez said. "It was good. I threw a lot of strikes, my pitches felt good. I'm happy."

Hernandez figures to throw four Cactus League games before facing the Rangers in his club-record ninth Opening Day start. He's 6-0 with a 1.49 EA in eight prior openers.

As is often the case, the Minor League hitters who faced Hernandez on Friday came out swinging. And 20-year-old outfielder Tyler O'Neill caught up to a fastball, drove it over the fence and unleashed a "Got him" yell that drew the veteran ace's attention.

Whether Hernandez would have responded in O'Neill's next at-bat was left unanswered. O'Neill, a third-round Draft pick in 2013 out of Canada, hit 32 homers for Class A Advanced Bakersfield last year.

"He didn't want to hit again," Hernandez said. "I told [pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre] I wanted the righty, but he didn't come back up."

Hernandez acknowledged the homer was "a big one" off an inside fastball, but then noted he was only throwing about 80 percent in his first outing. All in all, he accomplished what he wanted to do before putting in his post-workout running and heading to the clubhouse.

"I had good movement on my pitches. Can't complain," he said. "My changeup felt good. Ask the hitters. They weren't happy."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.