HOUSTON -- The Mariners went through their final workout of the spring Sunday at Minute Maid Park and are ready to put their new-look lineup to the test in Monday's 5:10 p.m. PT season opener against the Astros. But manager Scott Servais acknowledged his team will only go as far as its pitching carries it this year, and that begins with Opening Day starter Felix Hernandez.
"I'm anxious for him and us," Servais said. "He's worked his tail off this winter; he's adjusted and grasped hold of the things we've talked about him changing in his style a bit. He's still going to be Felix. He's still going to be flamboyant and very competitive with great stuff.
"But how he sequences his pitches and goes after lineups will hopefully be a little different and with a little different result than last year."
Hernandez will make his 10th Opening Day start, but first against the Astros. He's 6-1 with a 1.49 ERA in previous openers and enjoys the privilege of kicking off a season.
"It's always an honor to be the Opening Day starter," said the 30-year-old ace. "I've done it a few times and I like the challenge. It's still special. It's Opening Day to a new season. A lot of eyes are watching you."
The Astros have been tabbed as the American League West favorites by many, and Seattle has gone just 15-23 against them over the past two seasons, including 7-13 at Minute Maid Park. Servais feels his club matches up better athletically now with the addition of outfielders Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Haniger and shortstop Jean Segura, yet he knows it'll take more than that to win the division.
"It does come down to pitching," he said. "I love our offense and how athletic we are, and hopefully that does help our pitching. But you kind of go as far as the guys on the mound will take you."
That starts with Hernandez, who was 0-2 with an 8.10 ERA in two starts against Houston last year, in a season when he finished 11-8 with a 3.82 ERA in 25 outings. He acknowledges he feels "a little different" this spring.
"I feel stronger," Hernandez said. "I feel much better with my legs and my mechanics."
As for having the longest streak of Opening Day starts in the Majors?
"It doesn't make me old," he said with a smile. "It just feels good."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.