PEORIA, Ariz. – Felix Hernandez was engaging in some old-fashioned inside-baseball chatter, talking about a nice-and-easy arm action and how the ball jumped out of his hand in his first spring-training start. And then, when asked why, he leapt from cliched to candid.

"Last year," Hernandez said, "I was fat."

The guy isn't exactly Kate Moss now, but the change in Hernandez's physique is evident, and the Seattle Mariners couldn't be happier. No more double chin. No belly hanging over his belt. No worries that the 20-year-old is going to eat his way into Bartolo Colon's ZIP code.

King Felix, meanwhile, says he's checking in at 226 pounds, probably 30 less than last season. At least a pound or two came off with his hair, which has been shorn tight. He got tired of his hat falling off.

His neck certainly snapped all about the field enough last season. Hernandez yielded 195 hits, including 23 home runs, in 191 innings. And still, nearly everyone in baseball believes Hernandez is a future Cy Young winner because he throws 98 mph with three more devastating pitches.

The Mariners desperately need that Hernandez. Since general manager Bill Bavasi took over after the 2003 season, the Mariners are a combined 56 games under .500, their poorest three-year stretch since 1986-88.

They'll likely start by naming Hernandez the No. 1 starter. The Mariners haven't had a real one of those since they traded Randy Johnson in 1998.

Next order of business is getting Hernandez deeper into games. Only once before August did he go more than seven innings, the strain of pitching with extra weight especially heavy during the summer months.

And then? Well, perhaps the world.

"Now," Hernandez said, "I'm ready for everything."


2007 Spring Training

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