Felix will be brought along slowly

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez couldn't wait to get back to work, arriving at the Mariners complex at 6:30 a.m. on Friday, as he returned for the first time since signing his new contract in Seattle.

"It's the first day he's ever beaten me here," said pitching coach Carl Willis. "It's great."

But the Mariners won't rush Hernandez into things this spring.

"We just need to get him ready for April," said Willis, referring to the regular-season opener on April 1 in Oakland.

With that in mind -- and knowing Hernandez has thrown 230-plus innings for four straight years -- they'll go slow initially and build him up later in the spring. That process is easier now that Hernandez has opted out of the World Baseball Classic, which would have required stretching him out in time to pitch for Venezuela in early March.

"Now with the fact he's going to be in our camp the entire time, we're here a long time," Willis said. "We'll play catch a few days. He probably won't throw a bullpen till sometime early to middle of next week. Then we'll build him up accordingly.

"Last year was a little different for him, because we started the season early in Japan, and we had to get him going right out of the box. This year we've got plenty of time. We'll slow-play it here at the beginning."

The rest of the pitchers in camp will have thrown their second 10-minute bullpen session by Saturday, then will take two days off and come back with live batting practice next week as the full-squad practices get underway.

Cactus League action begins next Friday, but Hernandez won't start throwing in games until a little later in the spring.

"He knows the program," said manager Eric Wedge. "He knows his program, more importantly. Obviously you can trust him. He's going to be honest with you about how he feels and where he's at. And he does the work. Those are great attributes."