PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez threw his first live batting practice of the spring on Sunday as the Mariners ace progresses toward what will be a club-record seventh Opening Day start if all goes as planned over the next five weeks.
Hernandez says he feels physically stronger this spring after working hard over the offseason with Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who dropped about 30 pounds under the supervision of trainer Rafael Alvarez in Venezuela. Alvarez previously worked as Bobby Abreu's personal trainer. He helped Sandoval slim down, while Hernandez's goal was to get stronger.
"I'm throwing pretty good. I'm feeling great," Hernandez said. "That's why I prepared myself. I was hitting the weights. It was me and Panda working with Rafael Alvarez and he's pretty good. We were running, doing the little things, shuttles, hitting the weights, a lot of stuff."
Hernandez lost quite a bit of weight the previous two offseasons, but also lost some strength in the process. He feels more power in his lower body this spring, which should help both increase his velocity and his endurance.
"I think last year I came too light and it was too much," Hernandez said. "I had no power. My legs weren't strong enough. Now, I think I'm good. You have to figure out which way you're going to be."
If Hernandez finds the right balance, opposing hitters beware. He was 10-4 with an AL-leading 2.53 ERA in 20 starts before the All-Star Game last year, but just 2-6 with a 4.11 ERA in 11 starts after the break.
As usual, Hernandez is on a slightly slower spring schedule than most of Seattle's pitchers. He'll back off from live BP now and throw a bullpen session Wednesday, then he has a simulated practice game scheduled before making his Cactus League debut, which is currently projected for March 6.
He faced young prospects Chris Taylor, Gabriel Noriega and Ji-Man Choi on Sunday and it wasn't a fair matchup. Manager Lloyd McClendon said Hernandez was "unbelievable," then joked about needing to tweak his approach to get more out of the 2010 AL Cy Young winner next session.
Could he have hit Hernandez in his playing days?
"No, I could not," said McClendon, a career .244 hitter in eight Major league seasons. "I'm not going to lie to you. I asked Chris [Taylor] and he said, 'That's a lot of movement, Skip.' And I said, 'Yes it is.'"
Pryor returns to mound ahead of schedule
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Right-handed reliever Stephen Pryor provided some good news for the Mariners on Sunday as he took to the mound for the first time since undergoing surgery to reattach a tendon behind his throwing shoulder last August.
Pryor hasn't pitched in a game since mid-April after tearing his latissimus dorsi muscle, but he threw a 20-pitch bullpen session Sunday and said everything felt great.
"I've been waiting for that for a while," Pryor said. "It's been a long, patient offseason. I felt good today. I didn't have any setbacks, so that's always a positive."
Pryor attempted to return in midseason last year, but had trouble with his triceps muscles and an MRI test showed the repaired lat tendon had retracted and reattached to his tricep. The subsequent surgery to reattach that tendon is rare, with Jake Peavy the only Major League pitcher ever to have undergone the procedure.
Manager Lloyd McClendon said Pryor is ahead of schedule on his return, but the club will be cautious.
"He threw extremely well and had a big smile on his face," McClendon said. "We're very pleased. We'll just keep him moving forward. You get a guy like that healthy and back to where he was, he has the ability to help shorten up games."
The hard-throwing 24-year-old was projected to be a big part of the Mariners bullpen last year and didn't allow a run in his first seven appearances before his injury problems cropped up.
"What I told him is just keep progressing," said McClendon. "Don't get in a hurry. I know he's anxious because he's feeling good, but he has to continue to do what the trainers and doctors want him to do and keep moving forward."
"I'm antsier than I should be," Pryor acknowledged. "But our training staff has been good as far as just updating me and rolling with it day to day. Not making set plans, but just adjusting to how I'm feeling and progressing.
"Hopefully, I'll throw a few more bullpens, start doing some live BP and then be in the mix with everybody else," he said. "At this point, I don't think there is a schedule. If I threw five bullpens and feel really good, maybe I'll go into a game. Maybe it takes seven. I don't know at this point. It'll just be an adjustment, day to day thing."
Iwakuma still uncertain on specific return date
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Injured Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma did some dry work on a bullpen mound Sunday, going through his throwing motion first without a ball and then using a towel wrapped around his hand.
"I'm feeling very good," Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. "Condition wise, I'm great, besides the finger."
The standout right-hander is waiting for a doctor's reexamination of the strained tendon on the middle finger of his throwing hand this coming week before getting a better grip on when he might be able to start actually throwing a baseball again.
"He's coming along fine," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "After he sees the doctor, we'll see where we are. We're just trying to keep him in the best physical shape that we can at this point."
The initial report was Iwakuma would be sidelined 4-6 weeks from the start of camp and McClendon said he didn't think anything had changed to this point.
Iwakuma injured the finger when he caught it in protective netting as he leaped up to catch a ball while doing drills in California prior to reporting to camp. After finishing third in the American League Cy Young voting last year, Iwakuma had hoped to get off to another good start this year. But it's unlikely he'll be ready by Opening Day, given he's been unable to throw at all yet this spring.
Sunday's drills were designed to at least help keep his arm in throwing shape. But clearly this isn't the way he wants to spend Spring Training, watching from the sidelines as his teammates prepare.
"To be honest, it's hard to wait a second from throwing the ball," he said. "But I have to do what I have to do. I have to respect what the doctor says and be patient now and do what I can for now. You look forward to coming back as soon as possible, but at the same time, you don't want to rush anything. So we kind of have to play it by ear."
• Brandon Maurer, who was forced to skip Friday's scheduled live batting practice debut when his back stiffened up, returned to the mound Sunday for a bullpen session as he works his way back into the mix.
• Young catcher Mike Zunino continues to impress McClendon with his work in the batting cage.
"He's been great. He's really picked up on the drills," McClendon said. I think HoJo [hitting coach Howard Johnson] has done a tremendous job with him. I've been really surprised how fast he's picked things up. He's really swinging the bat well."
• Closer Fernando Rodney has yet to throw live batting practice and is scheduled to toss another bullpen session Monday, but McClendon said the slower program is just part of the 37-year-old's normal approach for Spring Training.