Pineda and Hernandez

A couple of former Timber Rattlers got into action for the Mariners yesterday.

First, the story on Felix Hernandez (’03)

This wasn’t exactly how Felix Hernandez expected life as a reigning Cy Young winner to begin.

There Hernandez was, on the second pitch of his first live action since being voted the American League’s best pitcher in 2010, sprawled on the ground, forced to hit the deck.

“I was like, ‘Wow, first game, man? You’ve got to do that?’ ” Hernandez said he told Oakland leadoff hitter David DeJesus, who singled hard up the middle. “It was scary.”

But Hernandez survived to tell the tale with a smile, and while there were a few other slight wobbles throughout his 2-2/3 innings, he pronounced his first game of 2011 a success.

“It was fun,” he said. “It’s been a while since I’ve pitched in a big-league game and I felt pretty good, throwing a lot of strikes, down in the zone. Breaking ball was good too, feel pretty good now.”
Then, Larry Stone recaps the day for Michael Pineda (’08) with a little help from former Rattlers pitching coach Jaime Navarro.

It was hard not to envision a day in the future — perhaps the not-so-distant future, for the most ardent dreamers — when the Mariners might have not one, but two dominating pitchers in their rotation.

Pineda is still raw, not yet two months past his 22nd birthday. Yet he exudes potential, from the huge frame to the electric stuff. Before the game, Jaime Navarro, the Mariners’ new bullpen coach, dared to say what many were thinking Monday as Hernandez and Pineda were showcased back-to-back in Seattle’s 6-3 victory at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

“You have Fifi (Hernandez) and you have Michael, who can become a great pitcher,” Navarro said. “That will be beautiful to watch. That will be one of my best days, seeing those two guys together.”

Navarro, as much as anyone, has witnessed firsthand the growth and nurturing of Pineda since his signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2005 at age 16.

Navarro was his pitching coach at Class A Wisconsin in 2008, Pineda’s first year in the United States. They were together again in 2009 at High Desert in the Class A California League.

When Pineda was elevated to Tacoma in 2010 after destroying Class AA competition (8-1, 2.22 earned-run average, 78 strikeouts in 77 innings for West Tennessee), Navarro — by then the Rainiers’ pitching coach — witnessed Pineda’s dazzling AAA debut as he blanked Salt Lake on one hit over six innings.

“From day one, I saw something in that kid not too many pitchers have,” Navarro said. “With Michael, it’s just a matter of time. He’s getting mature, getting comfortable. He’s going to be one of those guys — another Hernandez. It’s just a matter of how he’s going to handle it.”

I have the feeling that Pineda may be the next former Timber Rattlers player to make his major league debut.

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