PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez makes his Cactus League debut Thursday for the Mariners when they face the Royals in Surprise, Ariz. But while it seems like the Mariners ace has been held back this spring on a slower schedule, in reality he's right on pace with previous years.
Though Hernandez threw sooner last year when the Mariners opened the season a week ahead of other Major League teams in Tokyo, he and pitching coach Carl Willis are following the exact same schedule this spring that he was on in 2011.
That year, he threw a 33-pitch simulated game to four Minor League hitters on March 3, then made his first Cactus League start March 7 and worked his way toward an Opening Day start on April 1 against the A's.
If that sounds familiar, it should be. Hernandez threw a final live batting practice session to four Minor League hitters on Sunday (also March 3), and now will face the Royals on March 7 and begin building toward another Opening Day against the A's on April 1.
The difference this year is that Cactus League games started a week sooner than normal to give some players a chance to get ready in time for the World Baseball Classic. But with Hernandez opting out of the Classic, there was no need to rush him.
"It seems like everyone is under the impression that he's behind," Willis said. "We started games on Feb. 22. He didn't need to start that soon. He'll be to 95-100 pitches by the time we get out of camp."
Though Willis won't set anything in stone, you can expect Hernandez to start every fifth day from here on out, which puts him on pace to face the D-backs on March 12, the Rangers on March 17, the Padres on March 22 and the Dodgers on March 27.
If all goes well, he'll get his pitch count up to 90-plus in his final start and then be ready to throw 110 pitches or so if needed in the opener in Oakland.
The Mariners have a split-squad day on Wednesday, so Hernandez was chosen to face the Royals instead of the division-rival A's in the afternoon's other game in Phoenix. He's scheduled to throw two innings, with Hisashi Iwakuma to follow with three innings of his own.
The Mariners are bringing much of their top bullpen arms for that game as well, with closer Tom Wilhelmsen, lefty Lucas Luetge and hard-throwing youngsters Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor each slated for an inning.
Young right-hander Brandon Maurer gets the start in the A's game, but will only throw one inning as nine pitchers are slated to go one frame each. James Paxton and Jeremy Bonderman will be the first to follow Maurer.
Gutierrez finds potential home in leadoff spot
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Even though center fielder Franklin Gutierrez has been hitting with considerable power this spring, Mariners manager Eric Wedge continues to work him largely in a leadoff role as he looks at different lineup combinations.
Gutierrez has led off several times this spring, but Wednesday was the first time he filled that position when Dustin Ackley was also in the lineup. Ackley batted second in the 7-6 loss to the Brewers, and both he and Gutierrez went 1-for-3.
Gutierrez doubled and scored in the fifth inning as he improved his batting average to .313 (5-for-16) in six games, with each of his hits going for extra bases with three home runs and two doubles.
The 30-year-old also made a nice catch in the top of the fifth, running down a line drive in the gap to rob Khris Davis of a likely double. After two injury-plagued years, the 2010 Gold Glove winner has looked like the old Guti.
"That's what everybody wants and what I want, so I'm happy for that," Gutierrez said.
As for leading off, Gutierrez has filled that role in just 16 of the 633 Major League games he's started in his career, but he's open to the challenge.
"I've led off in the past, so it's nothing new for me," Gutierrez said. "Obviously if you lead off, you need to see some pitches and you take more at-bats in the game. Those are important at-bats. I'm not a fast guy, but I can get more fastballs to hit there."
Wedge hasn't settled on anything yet, but definitely seems intrigued by the idea of Gutierrez hitting ahead of Ackley.
"We've been looking at that," Wedge said. "We've been looking at multiple people up top, but obviously the veteran presence of Gutierrez up there and the way he sees pitches and the way he's been hitting the ball, all those things are positives for us.
"Ackley has also looked good and I feel like he's using the field better this year, his direction is better and his legs are underneath him more," said Wedge. "And he sees a lot of pitches as well."
Beavan comfortable despite rough outing
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Young Mariners right-hander Blake Beavan struck out three straight batters on a slow curveball early in Wednesday's start against the Brewers, but wound up giving up six hits and three runs in his three-inning outing as Seattle dropped a 7-6 decision.
For the big 23-year-old, it was a mixed-results day as he gave up a home run on a slider in the second inning and then a two-run bomb on a fastball that drifted over the plate to Khris Davis in the third as his spring ERA climbed to 5.63 in eight innings over three outings.
"There's a lot of positive and then a couple negatives," Beavan said. "I can sit here and say it's early and every excuse, but there were just some bonehead pitches at times, especially with two outs [with both home runs]. That just makes you cringe when you give up something like that with two outs and you're almost through the inning. It's just something to look at and keep in mind for the next time I'm out there."
Beavan continues to feel good about his refined delivery, which is allowing him to get more downward angle on pitches and make the most of his 6-foot-7 frame.
"I feel night and day better than where I was last season, just from my angle and everything coming downhill and from the same arm slot," Beavan said. "Last year, I think I had a tendency of maybe tipping pitches at times or maybe giving hitters more of an advantage of me slowing my mechanics up.
"But I don't feel like I'm doing that at all with the stuff I'm doing now. Now it's just a matter of getting all these bad ones out of the way and working hard in the bullpen, and trying to repeat my delivery and get comfortable with that before we crank it up."
• Ken Griffey Jr. arrived at Mariners camp on Wednesday and spent some time on the backfields at Peoria, Ariz., talking to some of the Minor League players in his role as a special consultant. Jay Buhner is also at camp for a few days.
• New left-hander Joe Saunders will get his second start of the spring -- and third appearance -- when the Mariners host the A's on Friday. Saunders is scheduled to pitch the first three innings, with Hector Noesi also slated to throw three frames.