Hernandez on mound as Seattle opens against Angels

SEATTLE (AP) Felix Hernandez knows how to handle the pace and hoopla of opening day as the opposing pitcher.

Each of the past six years, Hernandez has taken the ball and been on the mound in the season opener for the Seattle Mariners. All six times, those starts have been on the road.

So it seems appropriate that with the Mariners entering a season of heightened expectations and finally opening at home again, it'll be Hernandez on the mound at Safeco Field on Monday against the Los Angeles Angels. It'll be just the second time in his career that Hernandez has been the starter at home to begin the season - he's never lost on opening day.

''I think it's going to be different than 2007. First of all, we've got a better offense, we've got a better team,'' Hernandez said. ''So it's going to be fun. It's going to be awesome.''

It's been more than a decade since Seattle has entered a season with the kinds of expectations it has received this spring before Hernandez has thrown that first pitch. Some observers believe Seattle will not only dethrone the Angels from the top of the AL West, but might be the most complete team in the American League and make its first World Series appearance. Monday's opener will be the debut of slugger Nelson Cruz - last year's MLB home run leader with 40 - sandwiched between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager in what's expected to be Seattle's improved offense.

But as manager Lloyd McClendon said during spring training, whatever expectations the Mariners face would not be coming from outside the organization.

''In the end, when we get ready to leave (Arizona), we'll have expectations, and they'll be dictated by me,'' he said.

Hernandez has never shrunk under the pressure of pitching in season openers, going 5-0 with a 1.34 ERA and 55 strikeouts in eight career starts. He's never allowed more than three earned runs and more importantly, the Mariners are 7-1 in those eight outings.

''I just go out there and try to do my job, that's all I do. I've known the Angels for a long time and I'm not going to make any adjustments,'' Hernandez said. ''I'm just going to go out there and do my job and try to help the team win and that's it.''

The Angels will still have something to say about Seattle rise to the top of the AL West, beginning with sending ace Jered Weaver to the mound on Monday. Weaver will be making his 32nd career start against the Mariners and is 14-10 all-time. But since the start of the 2012 season, Weaver has lost six of eight decisions against Seattle.

The Angels are still very much the same team that had the best record in baseball last season, with the best player in the American League with reigning MVP Mike Trout. But the Angels were swept out of the ALDS by Kansas City last fall.

''I think the guys probably still think about it. It was a time where for some guys, it was their first playoff experience and a time we thought we had a shot to do some more special things, but we kind of ran into a Mack truck in the Royals,'' Angels third baseman David Freese said. ''But I think you turn the page quick. Everybody understood that it was a successful season and we brought the division title back here.''

Seattle held a brief workout at Safeco Field on Sunday night mostly to get use to the new LED lighting being used at the stadium this season. Seattle is the first team in baseball to install LED lights at its home stadium joining a list in other sports that included NRG Stadium in Houston, University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, and Staples Center in Los Angeles among venues making the switch.

''I don't think there is going to be any issues at all. I think they're fantastic,'' McClendon said. ''We need to be under the lights and let them hit and field and get used to them.''

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide — from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Grant Wahl, Andy Staples and more — delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.