BY John Hickey 04:22PM 03/07/2011

Hernandez is Pineda’s mentor as well as a fan

Mentor and student both look good in 6-3 Cactus League win over Oakland Monday.

Rookie Michael Pineda threw two scoreless innings Monday. / File photo courtesy Tacoma Rainiers

PHOENIX – It’s entirely possible that 40 percent of the Seattle Mariners starting rotation in 2011 took the mound against the Oakland A’s Monday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

And based on the overall performance the Mariners got from Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda in a 6-3 Seattle win, that’s not a half-bad thing.

Cy Young Award winner Hernandez, who is a lock to get the opening day nod for Seattle in Oakland, started and got the first eight outs with the A’s reaching him for one run.

Pineda, a rookie who may be the next great hope to emerge from the Seattle minor league system, pitched two innings and didn’t disappoint, giving up one hit and no runs.

He particularly didn’t disappoint Hernandez, who made it clear at the beginning of his media interviews that he was a little pressed for time because he wanted to see Pineda pitch. Suffice it to say that Hernandez, who has become something of a mentor for Pineda, is a fan.

One of the telling issues of the spring for Seattle will be the positioning of Pineda. He has spent only half a season at Triple-A Tacoma (3-3 with a 4.76 ERA in a dozen starts), so having him start for the Rainiers wouldn’t be a bad thing, even if you don’t consider the small matter of the potential financial penalties awaiting Seattle down the road if they start the clock on his contract too soon.

“Michael has good stuff,’’ a jocular Hernandez said in the clubhouse. “I can’t wait to go out and watch him.’’

When he did, he saw enough to offer encouragement.

“Felix came to me after my first inning,’’ Pineda said. “He told me I needed to keep working hard.’’

That doesn’t seem to be an issue for Pineda, who threw one shutout inning in the Mariners’ intrasquad game and has come back with two shutout innings in each of his first two Cactus League games.

And for manager Eric Wedge, the fact that Hernandez is helping out with the new kid is part of the way baseball should be played – the kids learning from their elders, although in terms of years, Hernandez is less than three years older than Pineda.

Hernandez does have more than five years in the big leagues, and that experience is invaluable.

“(Mentoring) will come naturally,’’ Wedge said. “With Felix and the experience he has and the success he’s known, it’s natural for him.’’

Originally, the Mariners thought about having Pineda pitch three innings. But, in perhaps an indication that the rookie will get every chance to win a job in the rotation, he was held to two innings so that he could pitch on three days’ rest instead of four. That means he’ll pitch Friday against the Indians in Goodyear. Hernandez is now scheduled for Saturday once again against the A’s, this time in Peoria.

“We’re bringing back (Pineda) a day early so he can pitch in front of Felix,’’ Wedge said, indicating that both pitchers are likely to get the chance to get four or even five innings the next time out.

That’s natural for Hernandez but particularly good work for the rookie who has never pitched in a big league game. It’s clear that the club is scrutinizing him for inclusion in the five-man starting rotation, no matter what the financial cost might be down the line.

The tendency among big league clubs is to wait until the second half of May or early June to bring up players they believe will be stars. It’s a way to get around the “super-two’’ rule in which the top 17 percent of players with two years’ worth of experience get to salary arbitration a year early and see their earning power escalates exponentially.

On the other hand, the Mariners aren’t in position to be picky, and if Pineda is one of the team’s five best starters, there will be considerable pressure on general manager Jack Zduriencik and Wedge to go with him to start the season.

NOTES: The reading of the MRI on the left groin of catcher Miguel Olivo confirmed that he has a strained groin, but the Mariner medics are not ready to put him on a timeline because squatting as often as catchers do is tough on the groin in the best of circumstances, so the club will take it slow with Olivo. … Hernandez wound up getting just eight outs instead of the nine he’d been scheduled for. Once he got to 53 pitches, the Mariners were content he’d thrown enough, although Hernandez said “I wanted to finish the third.’’ … Hernandez gave up five hits, but two of them were bloopers, and the hardest hit ball was the first one of the game, a rocket by David DeJesus that had Hernandez diving to get out of the way. After the inning, Hernandez said he kiddingly asked DeJesus “why are you going to do that on my first game?’’ … Monday’s 6-3 win was the first victory on the road for Seattle this spring. The Mariners had been 0-3-1 while wearing road grays before this one. … The Mariners have scheduled a “B’’ game for Tuesday in Glendale against the Dodgers. Luke French will be one of a half dozen pitchers who throw in that one. … In the “A’’ game, Jason Vargas is scheduled to throw three innings against San Francisco in Peoria.

Twitter: @JHickey3


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