PEORIA, Ariz. — If not for the knot on his forearm, which is still mildly tender to the touch, Felix Hernandez would have been preparing to make his third Cactus League start of the spring on Tuesday evening vs. the Rockies at Peoria Stadium.
Instead, Hernandez was relegated to standing in the sun and playing 10 minutes of catch with bullpen catcher Fleming Baez while being watched closely by senior trainer Rob Nodine, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and later manager Scott Servais. At least in this environment he wasn’t going to be wearing another comebacker off his body.
But why the crowd to watch him play catch? Why was monitoring something a player does every day in spring training so important?
It was supposedly the first time that Hernandez had picked up a baseball since taking a line drive off his throwing arm, near the elbow on Feb. 26 against the Cubs. T he baseball left a deep contusion and shut him down from throwing. But when asked if he was worried about how the arm would feel, Hernandez elicited a devilish grin and replied, “I wasn’t worried. I tested it already. Oops.”
Of course, he did.
Still, the simple throwing session represented the first step into getting Hernandez back onto a mound and preparing for the regular season.
“It feels good,” he said.
So how many throws?
“I had 25 throws,” he said definitively.
Stottlemyre, who was walking by the media session, heard the answer and corrected his pitcher, saying loudly, “You had 20 throws.”
“Oh, I guess 20 throws,” Hernandez said.
It led to a level of encouragement and optimism from Hernandez that was missing in the immediate days after the injury when his arm was swollen, sore and ached when he moved it.
“I’m happy with it,” he said. “Now I have to go day by day. They want me to take it easy, but I can’t do that. It’s not my thing.”
That’s why the trainers and coaches were monitoring him so closely. And will continue to shadow his rehab, recovery and any time he touches baseball going forward.
“Hopefully tomorrow is 30 throws or maybe 35 throws,” he said. “I was throwing 70-75 percent. I want to be at 100 percent. The first thing is make sure nothing was happening with my elbow so I will be fine. I just want to be healthy. I won’t feel anything, no tightness, nothing. I will be fine.”
Hernandez will have to test the arm in long toss before stepping on the mound. The Mariners will be cautious not wanting to have a setback in his recovery.
Said Servais: “We’ll see how that goes.”
Gamel out for month with oblique
The injuries continue to mount for the Seattle Mariners, who will be without outfielder Ben Gamel for four to six weeks due to a strained right oblique muscle.
The Mariners were hopeful that Gamel would miss only a few days but an MRI revealed a more extensive injury after it was reviewed by team physicians. Gamel first felt the injury after batting practice late last week.
Gamel is added to a growing list of ailments for the Mariners. Seattle has already seen first baseman Ryon Healy (hand), outfielder Mitch Haniger (hand) and pitcher Felix Hernandez (bruised forearm) slowed by injuries during spring training. Outfielder Guillermo Heredia is also still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, leaving Seattle thin at the position.
Gamel hit .275 with 11 home runs and 59 RBIs in 134 games last season for Seattle.