Notes: Hernandez set to return

Notes: Hernandez set to return

BOSTON -- Felix Hernandez remains on target to return to the Mariners' rotation on Wednesday in Detroit.

The young Seattle right-hander, who was off to a great start (including a near no-hitter against the Red Sox) before leaving his April 18 start in Seattle with an elbow strain, had a bullpen session in Seattle on Tuesday and played catch Wednesday. Manager Mike Hargrove said Thursday all systems appear to be go for the pitcher to return against the Tigers.

"He felt good yesterday and he's walking around with a smile on his face today, so I assume he's still feeling all right," Hargrove said. "I haven't had a chance to sit down and talk with him ... or with [pitching coach Rafael Chaves] or [trainer] Rick Griffin past yesterday. We've talked, [but] it just hasn't been about Felix."

Hargrove said he's glad the 20-year-old Hernandez was upfront about not being ready to return in New York this weekend.

"You really preach to young people to let you know how they are and tell you the truth so you can make some sort of judgment about that," Hargrove said. "Nine times out of 10 they're not going to be [honest]. It's good that a player of his age realizes the importance of being honest in these situations. I think this is a really good thing, because had he not done that, he would start [Friday night] and he might have been OK -- but he might not have, too, so this is a good thing."

Walking the line: While Hargrove seemed sure Hernandez would be ready for his start, the manager has no way of knowing what the future holds regarding veteran righty Jeff Weaver.

Weaver, who is 0-4 with an 18.26 ERA in his first four starts with the Mariners, will pitch against the Yankees on Saturday. One wonders what will happen after that if Weaver doesn't show some sign of coming out of this funk.

"I've said a lot of times and I'll say it again, in this game patience pays off, but you always walk a fine line between being patient and foolish -- and I think that we probably are up against that right now," Hargrove said. "So his next start is all important, to him and us."

Weaver has worked just 11 innings this year, yielding 31 hits and 23 earned runs, with the opposition hitting an amazing .492 average against him.

Lets keep playing: Despite having to surrender their off-day to come into Boston and play Thursday, the Mariners were glad to be playing. Teams tend to feel that way when they're winning, and Seattle came in with three straight wins, seven in the last eight games.

"Sometimes, days off can be bad when you're playing well," said Richie Sexson. "As long as you're playing well, it's good to stay out on the field."

Not staying out on the field, of course, was one of the problems early in the year, when the Mariners saw their four-game series in Cleveland snowed out.

"We felt like we were off to a pretty good start, everybody was swinging the bat well and throwing the ball well," Sexson said. "Then we had that stretch and everybody lost their swings and had to start all over again. That had a lot to do with losing those six [straight] games. But, as long as you're playing well, you want to stay on the field."

Added Hargrove: "When things are going good, it's not a bad thing and when things are going bad it's not a good thing. We'd rather be playing right now. But you still have to look down the road. Even if you're playing well, you don't want to play too many days in a row. That's counterproductive."

Putz to rest: Hargrove said the plan was to give closer J.J. Putz, who recorded saves in Seattle's previous two games, the night off in Boston, with Brandon Morrow "probably" set to act as the closer.

The flame-throwing Morrow was 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA, with 12 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings. Hargrove said he had Chris Reitsma and George Sherrill ready to help Morrow, but the manager also left the door open for plans to be made on the fly.

Not caught up: Not trying to downplay the second confrontation between Ichiro Suzuki and Red Sox righty Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hargrove made it clear Thursday night's game was about more than the two Japanese stars.

"There's more to this game than just Matsuzaka and Ichiro," he said. "I understand the interest and I understand the hype, I really do."

Ichiro was 0-for-4 against his countrymen when they faced each other in Boston's home opener, April 11.

Ichiro opened Thursday's game with a walk and then swiped second base. It was his 41st straight steal, which breaks the American League record he had tied with Tim Raines on April 15. The steal was just Ichiro's second of the season, the sixth by the team.

Coming up: The Mariners open a three-game series against the Yankees on Friday night in the Bronx. Cha Seung Baek (0-0, 4.22 ERA) gets the start for Seattle, while New York counters with Kei Igawa (2-1, 6.08 ERA) in the 4:05 p.m. PT start.

Mike Shalin is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.