Putz, Hernandez thrill crowd at Peoria
Pitchers bypass Cactus game vs. Rangers to get work in
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The bleachers on the first- and third-base sides of Field 3 at the Peoria Sports Complex were jammed Saturday morning as two of the Mariners' most important pitchers got their work in during a Minor League intrasquad game.The crowd grew larger as word got around that right-hander Felix Hernandez was pitching for Double-A West Tennessee and right-handed closer J.J. Putz was hurling for Triple-A Tacoma. This "duel in the desert" lasted into the third inning, giving Mariners fans attending Spring Training an unusual treat. Hernandez and Putz normally would pitch in a Cactus League game, but because Saturday's opponent was the Rangers -- the team Seattle faces in the regular-season opener -- manager John McLaren decided it would be best not to give Texas a sneak preview. Putz fared the best, allowing two hits and one run in 2 2/3 innings, walking none and striking out five. Hernandez, who will start the second game of the regular season, worked six innings, allowed seven hits, five runs (four earned), walked one and struck out 10 -- including the last five batters he faced. Hernandez, who threw 97 pitches on Saturday, has one Spring Training start remaining -- Thursday against either the Giants in San Francisco or the Padres in Peoria. Putz said he's ready for the regular season to start, although starting a Minor League game -- at 10:30 a.m., no less -- was more than a little strange. "Any Spring Training game is hard to get that adrenaline going and stuff like that," Putz said. "But today was good. We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish -- stretch me out, sit me down and get me back up. It was no problem." After Hernandez allowed an unearned run in the top of the first inning, Putz served up a home run to Josh Womack leading off the bottom of the first. "It was a good pitch and things like that are going to happen," Putz said. "He had a great at-bat. He fouled off some pitches and put a good swing on it. The pitch was down and in, right where we wanted it. [Catcher Kenji Johjima] even said, 'Good pitch.' What are you going to do? If it's a one-run game, the ball wouldn't even be there. It would be away."
An even better pitch ended Willie Bloomquist's at-bat against Putz."I struck out Willie, and that was great," Putz said. "Got him with a 3-and-2 split. That was the highlight of the outing, definitely." Putz said "everything was good" during the 45-pitch outing and velocity doesn't matter, "because it's going to change as soon as we get in front of 40,000 fans." "I'm ready for the season to start," he said. Not everyone else apparently is. The Mariners dropped an 8-5 decision to the Rangers and while the result didn't mean anything, the way Seattle played did not sit well with McLaren. "When you give up 18 hits, you're not going to win many ballgames," he said. "We've been flat here lately and I'm disappointed in the pitching today. I don't care about winning Spring Training games, but I do care about how we play the game and I don't like what I've seen lately."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.