Slimmed-down Hernandez ready for Mariners' spring training

Updated: January 26, 2007, 3:55 AM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- The bushy, unkempt hair is now closely cropped and slicked back. Felix Hernandez's shoulders look broader, his face thinner.

At age 20, the Seattle right-hander is maturing quite quickly.

"When I saw him I was stunned," Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi said. "This guy looks like a guy who is very prepared, very focused."

A sleeker, trimmer Hernandez showed up in Seattle this week with a toned physique 20 pounds lighter than the same time a year ago. Hernandez spent the winter in Venezuela eating smarter and working out every day, after his first full major league season failed to meet the expectations placed upon the youngster.

Hernandez was 12-14 last year with a 4.52 ERA in 31 starts. He was hampered by poor physical conditioning that led to the development of shin splints in spring training that bothered him into the season.

Hernandez has apparently learned from his mistake, helped by conversations last season with manager Mike Hargrove and pitching coach Rafael Chaves.

Last season, Hernandez reported to spring training at 246 pounds, 16 pounds heavier than the team wanted. This year, Hernandez will arrive in Arizona at a svelte 226 pounds, looking more like the workhorse Seattle is counting on to be the ace of its staff.

"Last year, he looked like a baby, he looked like a kid, from the look in his eye to how he carried himself to the composition of his body," Hargrove said. "All that is different. You don't see that in a lot of young kids, that transformation that quick."

Hernandez took the first two weeks of the offseason for himself, by order of the team. He then started his offseason workout program, regularly running and hitting the gym. Perhaps most importantly, he ate more vegetables and avoided what he called "fat foods."

"I learned a lot of things," Hernandez said of his first full season. "The first thing I learned is that you have to get ready in the offseason for spring training."

Hernandez acknowledged he showed up in Arizona last year in "all right" shape.

"His heart is in the right place, it was in the right place then," Bavasi said. "He just made a mistake and that's part of a 19-year-old coming to camp is he makes a mistake. You don't see this kid make mistakes twice."

Seattle limited Hernandez to less than 200 innings last season, but he still led the team with 191 innings pitched. Hargrove will not have the luxury of holding down Hernandez's innings this year as the Mariners failed to land the No. 1 starter they sought in free agency, leaving Hernandez as the default ace of the Seattle staff.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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