King Felix not changed by big contract

King Felix not changed by big contract

Credit: AP

Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez fields the ball during a drill on the team's first day of baseball spring training for pitchers and catchers, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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by Associated Press

NWCN.com

Posted on February 19, 2010 at 9:09 AM

Updated Friday, Feb 19 at 9:09 AM

PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) - Felix Hernandez still wears his cap bill slightly tilted to one side.

He still performs the sign of the cross as he prepares to pitch. And that fastball that helped make him the Seattle Mariners' ace is still electric.

Not much has changed for King Felix - that is, other than the five-year, $78 million contract paycheck he signed last month and the two pounds he gained before arriving for spring training Wednesday.

"More muscle," Hernandez deadpanned.

The 23-year-old Hernandez is also becoming more of a leader, evident even on the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers Thursday at the Mariners' spring training complex. He's popular with his teammates, pops his catcher's mitt with pitches that draw a crowd of onlookers and is just fine with taking some ribbing from his manager.

The team measured and listed players' body-fat content in physicals Wednesday, and Hernandez said his was at 13 percent.

"Felix says he won it," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "You look at that list. It's his all-time low, but he still at the top of (the list)."

That said, the svelte Hernandez seems a more trim 225 pounds, his listed weight. And there's no arguing with his 19-5 record last season.

"I just told him that it's maturity," Wakamatsu cracked. "He's getting older and the baby fat's going away, it wasn't how hard you worked."

But Hernandez is growing into his role. He dismisses any notion that the money and pressure that comes with it will affect him.

"Not really," Hernandez said. "It's the same. I just have to do the same work I did last year. I don't feel any difference."

His coaches, however, will be keeping an eye on that.

"I saw such growth last year, and he's just continuing that, obviously," Wakamatsu said. "What we have to watch for is this guy signed an awfully big contract and how he's going to handle that in the right way. And so far, we're just trying to explain to him that he needs to be the same guy. And that's difficult for professional athletes sometimes because they want to put a lot of responsibility on themselves, but he doesn't need to."

Hernandez threw off a mound Thursday, the first time he's done so since the Mariners' regular-season finale. He was winded after sprints on the field following his bullpen session.

"I feel like I haven't thrown for two years," he said, "Oh, but it's getting better. Not big expectations from the first bullpen."

But Hernandez will be back to being the same person who loudly cheers his teammates from the dugout and who shouts and pumps his arms after a big strikeout, his pitching coach says.

"You'll see a guy that over a period of time, the leadership abilities will come out even more," Rick Adair said. "There's a lot in Felix. You see the passion. You see the personality, the intensity. That's not false bravado. It's real because his work ethic and preparation is getting better and there's passion within that."

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