CLOSE

Now Commenting On:

Felix set to face Dice-K at Fenway

Hernandez set to face Dice-K at Fenway

The more games Felix Hernandez can pitch like his Opening Day outing against the Athletics at Safeco Field -- 12 strikeouts in eight shutout innings -- the more times he'll be the spotlight when he starts.

But it's not the case for his next outing.

When Hernandez goes to work Wednesday night at chilly Fenway Park -- ending a personal nine-day layoff -- the Mariners' 21-year-old ace right-hander will play second fiddle to the opposing starter, Red Sox rookie right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka.

"Everybody will be looking at him, not me," Hernandez said on the eve of the much-ballyhooed home debut of the $103 million pitcher from Japan. "He's a very good pitcher, one of the best. For me, it's just another game."

Well, another game multiplied at least by 10.

"It's going to be a fun game," first baseman Richie Sexson said. "There's a lot of hype surrounding it."

Hype, indeed.

The buzz around these parts has reached playoff level as Red Sox Nation -- and much of the world -- tunes in for the home debut of Matsuzaka. Adding to the drama is the fact that the first batter he faces will be Mariners center fielder Ichiro Suzuki.

"I'm very excited about it and I can't wait to face him," Matsuzaka said.

And speaking of hyperbole, how does Ichiro feel about facing his countryman and teammate on Japan's World Baseball Classic championship team?

"I hope he arouses the fire that's dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul," Ichiro told a reporter in Cleveland. "I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger."

The Mariners are somewhat anxious to face Matsuzaka.

"Before we go out there, it would be nice to look at some film to know a little bit about what he's got," Sexson said. "I haven't faced him and I'm not sure there is much video on him. You hate to go out there naked and not know anything."

Catcher Kenji Johjima was asked between bites of his scrambled eggs brunch if he had any advice for his Mariners teammates.

"I would first tell them to 'Pray to God,'" he said. "That is what I do first. The second thing is do my best. I think he is one of the best pitchers in Japan, but if you ask me if he was the best pitcher I have ever faced, that is a tough question. But he is one of the best pitchers I have ever faced."

Batters are saying the same thing about Hernandez. But not lately.

"It seems like forever since I pitched," he said. "It has been eight days and I hope this will be the last time I have that much time between starts."

Hernandez said the key to having a good game hasn't changed since his last outing. He said he needs to "command my fastball and stay relaxed."

He did just that on Opening Day, throwing first-pitch strikes on 21 of the 29 batters he faced and basically dictated the action all afternoon at Safeco Field.

"It will be more of a mental adjustment because it has been so long [since his last start]," Hernandez added. "I just have to make sure to throw strikes."

Pitching matchup
SEA: RHP Felix Hernandez (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
After an eight-day layoff, Hernandez returns to action in one of the most hyped early-season games in recent memory. Hernandez beat the Red Sox in his only start against them last season.

BOS: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-0, 1.29 ERA)
The much-anticipated Fenway Park debut arrives for the pitcher the Red Sox spent $103 million to bring to the U.S. from Japan.

Player to watch
Ichiro is the only Mariners player to face Dice-K, going 8-for-34 during their confrontations almost a decade ago in Japan. Ichiro's 100th career home run in his homeland was off Matsuzaka.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN, ESPN2

On radio
• 1000 AM KOMO

Up next
• Thursday: Mariners (LHP Jarrod Washburn, 1-0, 3.00) at Boston (RHP Tim Wakefield, 0-1, 1.50), 1:05 p.m. PT
• Friday: Mariners (RHP Miguel Batista (0-1, 15.43) vs. Texas (RHP Kevin Millwood, 1-1, 4.91), 7:05 p.m. PT
• Saturday: Mariners (LHP Horacio Ramirez (0-0, 0.00) vs. Texas (RHP Vincent Padilla, 0-2, 6.94) 12:55 p.m. PT

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{}
{}