BY John Hickey 07:17PM 03/27/2011

Felix passes final tuneup, but Cust’s back flares

The Mariners’ opening day starter is ready to go, but Cust is limited to one at-bat before he’s lifted for precautionary reasons.

Felix Hernandez cruised through some minor leaguers Sunday and says he's ready for Opening Day. / Ben Van Houten, Mariners file

Felix Hernandez is ready for opening day.

The rest of the Mariners? Well, not quite.

Designated hitter Jack Cust came out of Sunday’s game against Texas in Peoria, AZ, with back pain. The Mariners don’t believe it’s serious, but they are a little concerned since the season starts Friday in Oakland.

There isn’t much time for injuries, if that’s what this proves to be, to heal.

It seems certain that Seattle will face the A’s without center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, whose stomach troubles led him to miss another game Sunday. He hasn’t played in a week, and both manager Eric Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik suggested late in the week that if Gutierrez didn’t play this weekend, he wouldn’t be ready to start the season.

The Mariners didn’t want Hernandez, the ace of their rotation and the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner, to face the Texas lineup since he’s due to match up with the Rangers in his second start of the season. He instead faced a group of minor league hitters Sunday. They didn’t have much of a chance.

Because he was going through the lineup so effortlessly, in the third inning, pitching coach Carl Willis kept Hernandez on the mound for five outs. After what should have been the third out of the seventh inning, Hernandez asked for and got two more batters – after the Mariners put a runner at first base.

“I wanted two more hitters,’’ Hernandez said afterward. “I wanted to pitch from the stretch. I needed to pitch with a runner on first.’’

In what was technically seven innings but included 8.1 innings worth of outs, Hernandez struck out 10, allowed two hits, including one infield hit, while getting in 103 pitches.

Is he ready for opening day? Yup.

“Everything is good,’’ Hernandez said. “Now I get prepared for opening day. It’s an honor for me. It’s good.’’

For the second day in a row, the Mariners lost in extra innings. The Rangers’ Michael Young delivered a run-scoring broken-bat single that broke a tie and gave Texas a 5-4 victory.

Seattle scored three times in the first inning, two on a homer by Chone Figgins, batting against Texas starter Colby Lewis. Cust hit into a double play in that inning, and he was lifted for a pinch-hitter the next at-bat, with Wedge saying it was a precautionary move.

“His back is a little stiff,’’ Wedge said, “so I didn’t want to take any chances this close to opening it up.’’

Wedge said he’s planning on having Cust play Monday against Colorado in the next-to-last game in Arizona for the Mariners this spring.

Rookie Kyle Seager hit a solo homer for Seattle in the eighth to tie the game at four.

Another rookie, pitcher Scott Patterson, pitched the ninth inning and gave up Young’s game-winning hit, Young’s third hit of the day.

Twitter: @JHickey3


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