Seattle phenom to miss at least 2 starts with arm strain

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

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

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

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.