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April 6, 2013 at 9:07 AM

Felix Hernandez goes for a bit of baseball history today

Temperatures will be a lot warmer at U.S. Cellular Field today and were already at 51 degrees as the Mariners warmed up pregame.

Temperatures will be a lot warmer at U.S. Cellular Field today and were already at 51 degrees as the Mariners warmed up pregame.

This will be our final chance to see Felix Hernandez pitch as a 26-year-old as he turns 27 on Monday. Of utmost importance for his team in today’s early 10:10 a.m. PT start (where it’s already 51 degrees and climbing as opposed to last night’s chill) is securing a victory and a winning record on this road trip. But because of his birthday, we’re seeing all types of stat comparisons this morning between Hernandez and some of baseball’s all-time greats at the same age.

Some of you may have read a few of those stats in my newspaper notebook item on the team, published in the print edition this morning. Hernandez needs five more strikeouts to reach 1,500 and ranks fifth all-time in that department behind the likes of Walter Johnson, Bert Blyleven, Dwight Gooden and Sam McDowell for pitchers younger than 27.

But even more impressive is this stat from the Elias Sports Bureau this morning: of pitchers to record 100 wins (Hernandez has 99) and 1,500 strikeouts before their 27th birthday, Hernandez would sit fourth behind Johnson, Gooden and Blyleven. I mean, that’s some serious Hall of Fame stuff right there if Hernandez can stay healthy.

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Looking at today’s lineup, you have Franklin Gutierrez¬†sitting out despite going 3-for-5 (with a home run, a double and 3 RBI). Once again, this is the Mariners way of ensuring that Gutierrez stays as healthy as possible. If you listen to my Mariners podcast (below), done ahead of this series, it explores a question on Gutierrez and compares him to how the team used John Jaso last year in order to maximize his value. Gutierrez is a five-day-a-week player at best and has shown that throughout his career. Using him seven days per week to gain lesser production would be foolish until he proves he can hold up over the long haul.

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Raul Ibanez is out there in left field against right-handed starter Dylan Axelrod, while Michael Morse will play the right field corner. I’m sure that will draw all types of commentary, but frankly, the Mariners need the offense in this park more than they need Gold Glove defense if they’re going to keep up with the White Sox in terms of firepower. We saw Jason Bay get that big rally started in the fifth inning last night with an extra-base-hit. And with Hernandez on the mound, the flyballs should be kept to a minimum. Chances are, any flyball deep enough to cause problems for an outfielder here is probably going to leave the ballpark anyway.

So far, the Mariners have not had a problem with their corner outfield D. They have had a lot more offense generated by it at important times. Now, the starting pitching after Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma? Much different story. No amount of outfield defense is going to mitigate what we’ve seen so far, though Michael Saunders saved the day last night with a great running catch on a line drive to right. But the pitching has to figure a few things out.

Speaking of Iwakuma, the stars appear to be aligning for him and Hisashi Iwakuma to square off next Friday at Safeco Field. Better book your hotel room now if you’re flying in to the Emerald City for the game because there could be some tour groups heading over for that one.

Of the not-so-tourist variety, we’ve also gor Erik Bedard scheduled to start for the Astros against the Mariners on Tuesday. Might get a French Canadian or two from Vancouver, but I think Seattle can handle it.

Comments | More in pregame | Topics: Michael Morse; Raul Ibanez; Felix Hernandez; Walter Johnson

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