Falling behind in count haunts Felix

Falling behind in count haunts Felix

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez understands the importance of getting ahead in the count.

But if he needed a reminder, it came during a shorter-than-expected outing Sunday afternoon against the Brewers at cool, windy Peoria Stadium, where the Mariners dropped an 8-4 decision.

"I don't care what you have, if you fall behind and throw them a fastball when they are looking for one, they're going to hit it hard," the Mariners right-hander said. "Falling behind is not good."

Hernandez was on an 80-pitch limit and reached it one out into the fourth inning. He walked off the mound after walking Mike Cameron on five pitches. It was Hernandez's only walk of the game, and he struck out five, but grooved fastballs to Cory Hart in the first inning, and one to J.J. Hardy in the fourth, wound up on the grass area behind the fences.

Hart's ball was hit so hard, in fact, that it landed near the flagpoles located well beyond the Mariners' bullpen in left field.

"Those guys can hit and they power," Hernandez said. "When you are falling behind, they take advantage."

It was the fourth start of Spring Training for Hernandez and easily the shakiest. Going into the game, he had allowed just two runs, both of them on solo home runs in his previous game -- also against the Brew Crew.

And for the first time this spring, Hernandez displayed the kind of emotion the Mariners want him to keep in check.

"I think Felix got a little frustrated out there, and we talked to him about that," manager John McLaren said. "He got his pitch count up and I mentioned to him that he can't even go five [innings]. He told me, 'You took me out, how could I?'

"You have to know there are going to be games like that. I'm not saying you have to accept it, but you have to deal with it. That's part of growing up. It's a work in progress and we talk to him about it. [Eventually] he's going to get it and be on his way."

Hernandez has two more starts to prepare for his first regular-season assignment, April 1 against the Rangers at Safeco Field, in the second game of the three-game series.

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His goal: "Command my fastball and mix in my breaking ball. I need to throw strikes and get ahead of the hitters."

Sometimes that's easier said than done, and Sunday was one of those days.

"It wasn't a pretty game," McLaren said. "There were rough conditions, windy and cold, and we had some pitching problems."

Right-hander Roy Corcoran tossed a spotless ninth inning after closer J.J. Putz pitched a scoreless eighth, striking out the side -- thanks in part to a Steve Bartman-like episode.

Catcher Jamie Burke went to the backstop near the Mariners dugout trying to catch a popup. Just as he got to the railing, Mariners president Chuck Armstrong, sitting in the first row of seats, stuck his hands up to catch the ball. The ball caromed off his right hand, denying Burke a chance to record the out.

"He won't be fined," said Howard Lincoln, the club's CEO. "The embarrassment will be enough."

Bartman, you might recall, might have deprived Cubs left fielder Moises Alou and an inning-ending catch during Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Marlins.

The Cubs, five outs from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945, lost that game to the Marlins and Game 7 the following day.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.