Pitchers and catchers start reporting to spring training in Florida and Arizona soon, meaning more and more baseball news will start hitting the wires. The Seattle Mariners aren't even waiting for spring camp to name ace Felix Hernandez as their Opening Day starter.
Mariners manager Scott Servais announced on Thursday that Felix Hernandez would take the bump on Monday, April 3, at Houston in Seattle's opener. This is obviously no shock, but I can't remember a manager making the announcement official more than three months before Opening Day. It will be Hernandez's 10th career Opening Day start for the Mariners and ninth in a row. Seattle has won all but one of those 10 starts, with that loss occurring last season against the Rangers.
King Felix had a very disappointing 2015 season in landing on the disabled list for the first time in years and limited to just 25 starts, Hernandez's fewest since his rookie season. He finished 11-8 with a 3.82 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 153.1 innings. Pretty good numbers for most guys, but a down season for the former Cy Young winner. Hernandez's ERA was the highest since 2006, his first full season in the majors, and he allowed a career-high 3.8 walks per nine innings. Against the Astros, his Opening Day foe, Hernandez was an ugly 0-2 with an 8.10 ERA in two starts as Houston batters hit .404 off him in 2016.
Servais said the injury-shortened season and Hernandez's mini-slump have motivated his ace this offseason: “Felix has been working out very, very seriously. I think he's in a different spot … and checking in with Felix, he's getting after it."
If Hernandez can stay healthy and return to ace form, the Mariners should contend in the AL West. The M's finished 86-76 last year, nine games behind AL West champion Texas. They likely will be third-favorites on MLB picks in the division this year behind Texas and Houston.
Seattle GM Jerry DiPoto appears to have significantly improved the team this offseason with 12 trades since the 2016 season ended. DiPoto added starting pitchers Drew Smyly (Tampa Bay) and Yovani Gallardo (Baltimore). Smyly has major upside and should fare well at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. DiPoto upgraded the infield with the acquisitions of shortstop Jean Segura (Arizona), who led the NL in hits last year, utility player Danny Valencia (Oakland), who probably plays first base, and catcher Carlos Ruiz (Dodgers). in the outfield, Jarrod Dyson was acquired from Kansas City and should start in right field.
Seattle pitchers and catchers report to the spring camp in Arizona on Feb. 14 and position players Feb. 18. The Mariners open Cactus League play Feb. 25 vs. the Padres. Seattle is +1500 to win its first AL pennant.