Seattle phenom to miss at least 2 starts with arm strain

Updated: April 20, 2007, 7:15 PM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez will likely miss two to three starts with a muscle strain inside his right elbow and forearm.

Starting Pitcher
Seattle Mariners

Profile
2007 SEASON STATISTICS
GM W L BB K ERA
3 2 1 6 18 1.56

But it could have been much worse.

Mariners medical director Dr. Ed Khalfayan said Thursday that the 21-year-old right-hander will not throw for five days, then will play catch. An MRI revealed the strain.

"I think 10 to 20 days is a reasonable estimate," Khalfayan said when asked when Hernandez might again pitch in a game. "That's as good a news as you can get from an elbow injury."

The doctor said if Hernandez had continued to pitch with the strain, he could have stressed the elbow so severely he would have required elbow-ligament replacement surgery.

Manager Mike Hargrove said after Hernandez resumes throwing, presumably on Monday if all goes well, he will have two bullpen sessions before he will return to the rotation. Accounting for rest days between those sessions, that makes his return unlikely until the first week of May.

"That's encouraging news," Hargrove said. "It's certainly a lot better news than what we all expected when he walked off the mound."

Hernandez had allowed four hits in 17 scoreless innings -- including a one-hitter at Boston last week -- before he left his start Wednesday night against Minnesota after just one-third of an inning. He allowed three runs, walked two, threw a wild pitch that scored a run, then waved trainers out to the mound to remove him from the game.

Asked Thursday if he was initially scared he'd miss a substantial chunk of an apparent breakout season, Hernandez said, "Oh, yeah. A lot."

"I want to come back as fast as I can. We'll see."

Khalfayan called the strain "a very common pitcher injury."

"Felix's injury is minor. We are optimistic he won't miss too much time," he said.

Hernandez was in good spirits and joking in the clubhouse three hours before Thursday's loss to the Twins. He repeated saying "I'm fine," and then refused to say anything else. Afterward, he was still jovial and playful.

"There's not a lot of pain. Just tightness and a little pain," Hernandez said. "So it's not going to be too long."

Hargrove said the team has already discussed who would start in Hernandez's absence -- on Monday at Texas and then likely again at home against Kansas City on April 28 -- but he was not ready to say whom. Jake Woods, the spot starter who pitched 5 2/3 innings after he replaced Hernandez on Wednesday, is no longer a candidate. The Mariners optioned him to Triple-A Tacoma before Thursday's game.

Brandon Morrow could be Hernandez's replacement. Morrow, the hard-throwing 22-year-old who was the fifth overall choice in last June's draft, is destined to be a member of Seattle's rotation soon. But the Mariners jumped him from Class-A to Seattle to be a reliever this month, because their rotation was set. Morrow dominated throughout spring training with fastballs reaching 98 mph.

At least he's rested. Morrow, mostly a starter through last spring at the University of California, hasn't appeared in a game since Saturday and has thrown just three innings this month.

Triple-A reliever Eric O'Flaherty was in the Mariners' clubhouse after Thursday's game and is likely to be recalled from Tacoma before Friday's game at the Los Angeles Angels. O'Flaherty, a left-hander, could be the bullpen replacement for Morrow if the rookie does take Hernandez's place.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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