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Seattle Mariners

What will Felix lose first: velocity or patience?

Sat., April 14, 2012

SEATTLE – Thanks to Bud Selig’s crack scheduler – rejected for an internship at, reportedly – the only pitcher the Oakland A’s have faced more than Felix Hernandez this season throws them batting practice.

Which is what it looked like for a couple of innings here at Safeco Field on Friday night.

That’s all it took for it to get away from the Seattle Mariners on an otherwise happy night when a soldier was reunited with a son, Mike Cameron signed a one-day contract so he could retire as a Mariner and the red boat won the scoreboard hydroplane race by, uh, flying.

Possibly you could chalk up the Seattle Mariners’ 4-0 loss to Opening Day fatigue, this being their third such pomp opera in 10 days. Except that the A’s have been through the same dance with the M’s – in Japan, Oakland and Seattle.

These teams see each other more often than the Globetrotters and the Generals.

The most instructive thing about the night was that for the 46,026 who made their way to Safeco, it was a quick reminder that what’s been for the M’s, will be again:

• Hernandez – or one of his rotation cronies – will pitch his heinie off, more or less.

• The Mariners, with their lineup of overmatched youngsters and overpaid oldies, will summon all of three hits out of the bat rack.

• General manager Jack Zduriencik, who basically surrendered in January when he said, “This is going to be a challenging year at the big-league level for us,” will continue to read from the same script that’s beginning to come apart at the folds from repeated extractions from his hip pocket.

• And those still invested in the Mariners – emotionally, that is, not dispassionately like the club’s ownership – will wonder again: Even if the Z-man’s plan eventually bears fruit, will Felix Hernandez have long since run out of patience and asked for a Get Out of Jail Free card?

Actually, there’s a shorter term worry.

The King’s fastball has been a few miles per hour short of sensational, both in the latter stages of spring training and the early returns of this young regular season. The radar confirms it, even as manager Eric Wedge insists it isn’t so.

“The velocity is right there, guys,” Wedge said. “I know you’re trying to make something (of it), but we’re talking about a guy who was still hitting 93 (mph) last time.

“That’s what he is. He’s a low-to-mid-90s guy who pitches. Can he reach back and get more if he has to? Sure. He pitches. He uses all five or six of his pitches and throws them when he wants to and where he wants to, which is as important as anything for him. I don’t have any worries in that regard.”

Well, OK. And Felix was throwing a few 93s up there in looking altogether Kingly in the first two innings.

Then the heater started coming in at 91 more often, and for a couple of innings the A’s started sending it into the outfield just as fast. They got a couple of runs in the third inning and Hernandez had to wriggle out of a bases-loaded ruckus in the fourth before regaining his equilibrium, if not his dominance.

He only gave up those two runs in seven innings – a swell night’s work for anyone. Yet he lost because, as has been his fate so often, his teammates were helpless.

But, hey, at 1-1, he’s on pace for another Cy Young Award.

Hernandez told reporters this spring that he’s wearying of his temperature being taken constantly regarding his feelings about the endless Mariners rebuild.

“I’ve always said I want to stay in Seattle,” he said. “Every time someone from somewhere else interviews me, they keep asking me, ‘Do you want to be traded?’ I’m going to make a sign and put it on my locker: ‘I’m staying.’ ”

There’s no reason to think he’s being disingenuous. And it’s not as if his biological clock is ticking. Hernandez is, after all, just 25.

There is also little to suggest yet that, with the exception of second baseman Dustin Ackley, these young pieces Zduriencik has assembled are all that special, though they certainly deserve some patience to see if they can get there.

But if Wedge and the management aren’t concerned with how fast Felix’s fastball is getting to the plate, their regard about the speed of player development isn’t likely to be any more urgent. Eventually, the franchise player may no longer share in their timetable.

The most amusing of the M’s new batch of always-charming TV commercials shows Hernandez in Wedge’s office, with “Little Felix” – a ventriloquist’s dummy – on his knee.

Wonder if the little guy can ask for a trade?

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