Bedard named Opening Day starter

Bedard named Opening Day starter

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Erik Bedard walked into the Mariners clubhouse early Wednesday morning and received the kind of news that usually comes much later in Spring Training.

The Mariners' newest starting pitcher also will be the Mariners' Opening Day starting pitcher.

Erasing what could have been an ongoing focal point during Spring Training, which begins Thursday morning for the Mariners, manager John McLaren announced during a media gathering on Wednesday afternoon that the recently acquired Bedard would start the March 31 regular-season opener against the Rangers at Safeco Field and right-hander Felix Hernandez would start the second game of the three-game series against Texas.

McLaren listed experience as the major factor he and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre used to select the team's Opening Day starter, which is more ceremonial than anything.

The 28-year-old Bedard, acquired last week from the Orioles for outfielder Adam Jones, left-handed reliever George Sherrill and three Minor League pitchers, has 111 Major League starts under his belt, including Opening Day for the Orioles last season. Hernandez, 21, has started 73 big league games, including Opening Day last season.

"I just think Erik has more experience and basically that's the reason," McLaren said. "I talked to Felix [on Tuesday] and he's comfortable with our decision. We haven't put our whole rotation together, where everyone is going to fall, but Erik is definitely our Opening Day starter. Felix will start the second game, and we'll let the remainder of the rotation work itself out [during Spring Training]."

In no particular order, left-hander Jarrod Washburn and right-handers Miguel Batista and Carlos Silva will complete the five-man rotation. Barring rainouts (or snow outs) all five starters would be needed the first month of the season.

When introduced to the Seattle-area media last week, Bedard talked about his place in the rotation.

"Felix is the No. 1 starter here," he said. "I just want to come here and pitch and win. The group of starters we've got here is really something. It's a good group."

He acknowledged that he was a little taken aback by his selection as the Opening Day starter.

"It kind of caught me by surprise, coming so early in spring like this," he said. "I don't know why everyone makes such a big deal about it. After that, there isn't much hype."

He said starting the game on Opening Day "never was a goal of mine."

It was a pretty big deal for Hernandez last spring and he earned his first Opening Day start.

Spring Training
News and features:
Multimedia:
• Ibanez excited for Opening Day  400K
• McLaren on the '08 Mariners  400K
• Feierabend on his latest outing  400K
• Buhner enjoying spring in Arizona  400K
• Rodriguez on joining Mariners staff  400K
• Green on March Madness  400K
Spring Training info:
MLB.com coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

Felix blanked the Athletics for seven innings and went on to compile a 14-7 record with a 3.92 ERA in 30 starts.

"I have always had this thought about Felix: that he has a chance to be the best pitcher in baseball," McLaren said. "That said, I told him he first needs to be the best pitcher from Venezuela. He will have to step up and move ahead of Mr. [Carlos] Zambrano and Mr. [Johan] Santana.

"I like to challenge him and I know he thinks a lot of those two pitchers. I really believe that Felix will be the best pitcher in baseball at some point in his career."

Having Bedard ahead of him -- barely -- could actually help Hernandez's progress.

There were times last season, especially during the late-season collapse, that he put too much pressure on himself.

"Felix is a young guy and has had a lot of [responsibility] on his shoulders," McLaren said. "We already have talked about high his ceiling is. I like the idea of having Erik taking a little pressure off him, and maybe pushing him a little bit."

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