Felix, Cano set to rule baseball land in Seattle
Mariners' ace looking to celebrate another championship in Emerald City
PEORIA, Ariz. -- As he welcomes Robinson Cano, his celebrated new teammate, Felix Hernandez clearly believes there is room for two kings in Seattle.
In the afterglow of the Seahawks' Super Bowl demolition of the Denver Broncos, King Felix watched Seattle, the jewel of the Pacific Northwest, celebrate in a fashion he'd love to see it replicate in the autumn.
"The city's on fire," Hernandez said on Thursday as the Mariners took their first steps under new manager Lloyd McClendon. "That parade after the Super Bowl was unbelievable. Now it's our turn to do something."
Seemingly nothing can dampen the King's optimism -- not even the possibility that No. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma will miss the start of the season while recovering from an injured finger on his pitching hand.
Cano, with his multiple talents and glow, will elevate the entire club, Hernandez feels. The ace is sky high on young starters Taijuan Walker and James Paxton and feels the signing of free-agent closer Fernando Rodney is another big move.
"All we need is a little patience -- and passion," Hernandez said. "Cano's one of the best players in the game. He's going to help a lot. And for the ninth inning, we got a guy who's closed for a long time. Fernando has experience -- and no fear.
"These guys, Cano and Rodney, have a lot of personality. That's what we need here -- to have fun. You can't get too serious. It's a game; you have to have fun. The last thing you want is a quiet clubhouse. I don't think this clubhouse is going to be quiet. I know Fernando a little, and he's a great guy. He keeps things loose."
The blockbuster signing of Cano -- one of the game's five premier all-around players by most evaluations -- put the Mariners back on the American League West map.
Rodney got to know Cano last season as his teammate on the Dominican Republic powerhouse that rolled unbeaten to the World Baseball Classic title.
"Cano can be a leader," said Rodney, who was waiting for approval of his physical exam before suiting up. "He was the leader of our team, and he was unbelievable in the Classic. He knows that you play your best when you're relaxed. Our team was very relaxed -- and very motivated."
Hernandez, a Venezuelan, watched the Classic in admiration of the champions.
"That Dominican team played like it was on a mission," he said. "That's what we need to do here, play with that kind of passion. You have to care a lot -- but also be patient."
The development of Walker, a remarkably athletic 21-year-old right-hander, and Paxton, a 25-year-old southpaw with superior stuff, could go a long way in determining if the Mariners can stay in the hunt in the always competitive AL West.
Both pitchers looked poised and polished late last season in Major League cameos. Walker was 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in three outings, with 12 strikeouts against four walks in 15 innings. Paxton was 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four starts, notching 21 strikeouts with only seven walks in 24 innings.
"If they need a little help, I'm going to give them a little help," said Hernandez, eager to share a leadership role with Cano. "Those guys are really good. You've got a funky lefty [Paxton] dealing over the top, throwing 97 [mph]. Tai's a big dude throwing cheese, too. He's fun to watch.
"We've got veteran guys, young guys. There's a lot going on with this team."
Hernandez, the 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner and runner-up in 2009, is squarely in his prime. He turns 28 on April 8 and is confident he can improve on his 12-10 record and 3.04 ERA in 204 1/3 innings last season.
"I feel great," Hernandez said. "I'm ready to go."
Iwakuma finished third in the AL Cy Young Award balloting after going 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA in his first full season as a Major League starter. Assuming he recovers fully from the strained tendon in his right middle finger, sustained during a pre-Spring Training workout in Southern California, Iwakuma gives Seattle a 1-2 punch with Hernandez to challenge any in the game.
Bidding for rotation roles along with Walker and Paxton are veteran Scott Baker and young right-handers Erasmo Ramirez, Brandon Maurer and Blake Beavan.
Tom Wilhelmsen, Danny Farquhar, Charlie Furbush and Yoervis Medina will be asked to get the ball in Rodney's finishing right hand.
Along with Cano, a .309 hitter with a .504 slugging percentage through nine stellar seasons with the Yankees, the Mariners are looking to veteran newcomers Corey Hart and John Buck to provide right-handed muscle along with lefty Logan Morrison.
"You don't need a lot of home runs to win," Rodney said, having recorded 85 saves in 95 chances the past two seasons for Tampa Bay. "Look at the Rays. We had [Evan] Longoria and the young guy, [Wil] Myers, for power. Everybody else made contact. Putting the ball in play and having rallies, that's what wins games."
Point well taken. The Rays produced 23 fewer homers and scored 76 more runs than the Mariners in 2013.
A player of Cano's stature and confidence level can lift teammates. Kyle Seager was rock-solid at third base last year, and Seattle is looking for things to click for the likes of Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Mike Zunino and Michael Saunders.
The Mariners haven't had a winning season since 2009 and haven't won the AL West since 2001. The King believes their time to climb has arrived.
Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.