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Felix throws four frames in Minors game

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PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez threw four innings of one-run ball on Sunday against a Class A Minor League team from the Reds as the Mariners ace continued working toward Opening Day.

Hernandez pitched in the Minor League game at the Peoria Sports Complex rather than face the division-rival Rangers in the Cactus League contest being played at the same time at Peoria Stadium.

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Manager Eric Wedge said he also wanted to use the Cactus League game to better evaluate pitchers competing for the final rotation berths, though the Rangers wound up bringing a split-squad lineup that only included one starter in designated hitter Lance Berkman.

Hernandez surrendered one run and one hit while plunking a batter in the first inning, but finished up his day smoothly, tossing 62 pitches total.

"The first inning was a little rough," Hernandez said. "I threw a lot of pitches, got behind in the count, but after that I was good."

The 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner said he wasn't worried about facing young Minor Leaguers as part of his tune-up process.

"These guys are pretty good," he said. "They swing the bat a lot. You've just got to make good pitches. I don't think it's a different mentality. I just throw my pitches. But they're way more aggressive than big leaguers. They swing at everything."

Hernandez has two more starts scheduled before the regular-season opener on April 1 at Oakland. Assuming he stays on plan, he'll face the Padres March 22 and the Dodgers March 27, with both games at Peoria Stadium.

"I'm progressing a lot," he said. "I feel stronger and stronger. I'll be ready for Opening Day."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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