ANAHEIM -- Right-handed closer J.J. Putz says the elbow injury that cost him most of Spring Training may actually have been a blessing in disguise. "They say things happen for a reason, and maybe that's why it happened to me, so that Felix would be all right with what's going on," Putz said, referring to the elbow injury that will force 21-year-old Felix Hernandez to miss at least one start. Hernandez has been instructed to not even throw a baseball for five days.
"He has some work ahead of him, but the biggest thing is to let it calm down and not push it," Putz said. "It's more of an inconvenience than anything, and when he starts to feel great, he needs to give it two more days." Putz said he learned the hard way that coming back too quickly is a big mistake. "I tried to throw a bullpen, and it ached up again," he said. Putz said Hernandez "faces a lot of down, boring time and that's the hardest part. But at least we're into the season and he can be out on the field during batting practice and be in the dugout during the game. "The important thing, though, is for him to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel and he probably won't be out very long." Mum on Monday: The only certainty about Seattle's starting pitcher for Monday night's game against the Rangers in Arlington is that it won't be Hernandez. "We have decided, but we're not going to announce it until later, probably not until Sunday," manager Mike Hargrove said. Hernandez was removed from his start against the Twins in the first inning of Wednesday night's game at Safeco Field, and his next start would have been on Monday. As of Friday night, the team still hadn't decided if Hernandez would be placed on the 15-day disabled list. The organization can wait up to 10 days after the injury to decide and retroactive it to the day following the player's appearance. One option would be to promote a starting pitcher -- probably either Cha Seung Baek or Ryan Feierabend -- from Triple-A Tacoma for Monday night's start. Baek (1-0, 2.55 ERA) was scheduled to start Friday night's game against but didn't. Jason Mackintosh got the start instead. Left-hander Jake Woods would be another option, but for him to be recalled, either Hernandez or another player would have to be placed on the disabled list. Woods picked up for Hernandez on Wednesday, pitched five innings and was optioned to the Minors after the game, being replaced on the 25-man roster by right-handed reliever Sean Green. Green spent one day with the Mariners, didn't pitch and was sent back to Tacoma. Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty joined the team in Anaheim on Friday and will be used in relief. How about rookie Brandon Morrow? Not likely. He has appeared in three games and pitched just one inning in each of the relief outings. Morrow probably would need at least two or three extended outings to get his right arm "stretched out" so he could handle the extra workload. "It is not a priority to stretch him out," Hargrove said. Asked if he would bypass a starter and use several relievers in a game, Hargrove said, "I would rather not." In other words, wait until Sunday to find out who's starting on Monday. Novel idea: Head trainer Rick Griffin doesn't blame the cold weather for Hernandez's injury, but he would like to see the umpires allow more warmup pitches between innings during extreme cold or unusually long innings. "Pulling muscles and pitchers not being able to stay loose between innings worry trainers the most," he said. "I wish umpires would use more discretion in cold weather and give pitchers extra time to warm up -- maybe 12 pitches instead of the usual eight," he said. Seeking closure: The regular season is more than two weeks old and the Mariners went into Friday night's series opener against the Angels without a save from their closer. "I would like an opportunity just to get a save," Putz said. "I miss the rush. But as long as we're winning, that's all I care about. I'll take one-hit, complete-game shutouts all year long." The only time this season the Mariners had a save opportunity for Putz was last week in Boston, when they led the Red Sox, 3-0, in the ninth inning. As Putz watched from the visiting bullpen at Fenway Park, Hernandez retired the side in order to finish off a one-hit shutout. Over the hurt: O'Flaherty said he was upset when the Mariners sent him to the Minor Leagues out of Spring Training. "But after about an hour, I was positive again," he said. "I knew I just had to wait my turn." He reported to the Rainiers with a clear mind and has been rock solid, appearing in six games and going 3-for-3 in save chances. "I love pitching in that role," he said, "but I'm not going to get that role here." Not while Putz is around. On deck: The three-game series continues at 6:05 PT on Saturday night with Mariners left-hander Horacio Ramirez opposing the Angels and right-hander Bartolo Colon, who is making his first start of the season.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.