It’s now official: Jason Vargas will pitch Friday in Oakland when the Mariners resume the season against the A’s, with Felix Hernandez starting the second game. That sets up Hernandez to pitch the home opener April 13 at Safeco — which would be his third consecutive start against Oakland.
The change became apparent when Hernandez was listed as the starter for Monday’s exhibition game against Colorado (opposing Jamie Moyer) Pitching coach Carl Willis said they were reserving a final decision until they saw Vargas’s side session today; after doing so, the Mariners locked in Vargas to pitch ahead of Hernandez in Oakland.
Why? Willis said that the Japan trip made it so that only one of the two could get a start in an exhibition game in Arizona before returning to real action. Because Hernandez pitched before Vargas in Japan, the M’s didn’t want him going too many days without pitching in a game. Yes, Felix could have pitched today against Kansas City, but then he wouldn’t have gotten a throw session (which he had yesterday).
“It kind of presents our best option of keeping them both as sharp as possible without the ability to have them both pitch in a game,” Willis said this morning.
The fact that Hernandez now pitches the home opener — which no doubt will be a popular decision for the fans attending the game — wasn’t a factor, he said.
“It doesn’t figure in the equation,” Willis said. “We’re just trying to put them in the best possible spot to succeed with the days off and try to keep them sharp as can.”
The Mariners also announced the rest of their rotation to re-start the season: Hector Noesi will work the first game of a four-game series in Texas on April 9, followed by Blake Beavan, Kevin Millwood and Vargas. Willis said the team decided not to skip their No. 5 starter despite their off-day next Sunday.
“I’m sure at some point in time during the season, we’ll do that,” he said. “I think early, it’s important to get everyone out there. It’s strange. We start our season March 28, and we’ll have one of our starters not pitch until the 11th of April. That’s a long ways in, but that’s just how it is.”