PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez threw four innings of one-run ball on Sunday against a Class A Minor League team from the Reds as the Mariners ace continued working toward Opening Day.
Hernandez pitched in the Minor League game at the Peoria Sports Complex rather than face the division-rival Rangers in the Cactus League contest being played at the same time at Peoria Stadium.
Manager Eric Wedge said he also wanted to use the Cactus League game to better evaluate pitchers competing for the final rotation berths, though the Rangers wound up bringing a split-squad lineup that only included one starter in designated hitter Lance Berkman.
Hernandez surrendered one run and one hit while plunking a batter in the first inning, but finished up his day smoothly, tossing 62 pitches total.
"The first inning was a little rough," Hernandez said. "I threw a lot of pitches, got behind in the count, but after that I was good."
The 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner said he wasn't worried about facing young Minor Leaguers as part of his tune-up process.
"These guys are pretty good," he said. "They swing the bat a lot. You've just got to make good pitches. I don't think it's a different mentality. I just throw my pitches. But they're way more aggressive than big leaguers. They swing at everything."
Hernandez has two more starts scheduled before the regular-season opener on April 1 at Oakland. Assuming he stays on plan, he'll face the Padres March 22 and the Dodgers March 27, with both games at Peoria Stadium.
"I'm progressing a lot," he said. "I feel stronger and stronger. I'll be ready for Opening Day."
Beavan keeps the heat on in rotation race
PEORIA, Ariz. -- As Spring Training hits its final two-week run, young right-hander Blake Beavan turned up his game in the race for a rotation spot by tossing six strong innings in Sunday's 4-3 win over the Rangers.
Beavan, who won 11 games for Seattle last year, gave up just three hits and one run and lowered his Cactus League ERA to 3.86. He threw 61 pitches in the game, then went to the bullpen to throw another simulated inning and get his final count up to 80.
Beavan is competing with veterans Jon Garland and Jeremy Bonderman as well as fellow youngsters Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer for the final two starting spots. He understands the situation, but is focused on refining his delivery after adjusting his arm angle to get more downward force this spring.
"Obviously you notice if somebody is doing really good and you're going for the same job, but at the same time you can't get too much into it," said the 23-year-old Texan. "You want to compete and that's why there are veterans in every camp and younger guys pushing other young guys."
Manager Eric Wedge was impressed with Beavan's outing Sunday, even if the Rangers' split-squad lineup included mostly Minor Leaguers. He acknowledged the rotation situation is getting heated.
"Everybody knows where we're at and what we're looking for and where the competition is," Wedge said. "That's what it's all about, especially when you get to the last couple weeks here in March. We're into that already, so it should be a lot of fun here as we work down the stretch."
Beavan knows what he's up against.
"With us, we have Garland and Bonderman and Maurer is still over here and a bunch of other guys. So it's a good mix of different kinds of pitchers just going out there battling," he said. "That's always good to have that kind of pressure on you to go out there with a little more edge instead of just going out and working on things.
"For me, I am going out there and working on things, but I'm also competing for a job. If I can just get my fastball where I need to get it, everything else will take care of itself."
Ackley dropped to eighth in order
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Though Dustin Ackley was the Mariners' leadoff hitter last season after the trade of Ichiro Suzuki, and spent most of that year hitting first or second, manager Eric Wedge had the young second baseman batting eighth in Sunday's 4-3 victory over the Rangers, and he said that could be a sign of things to come.
With Franklin Gutierrez being used in the leadoff role and Kyle Seager a strong candidate to bat second, Wedge is able to drop Ackley down pretty far in an order that has been strengthened significantly with the offseason additions of hitters like Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay.
"I want to be a complete lineup this year," Wedge said. "I want to be one-through-nine, and there's a chance that's where he's going to hit as we put this thing together. It doesn't matter where he hits, it's just about him getting on track."
Ackley went 0-for-3 on Sunday to put his spring batting average at .292, but Wedge liked what he saw on a couple of hard line drives to center field.
"That was a good approach," said Wedge. "And his batting practice today was as good as I've seen in a while. He's just in a better position to cover the plate, cover the baseball and utilize his strengths. He's a barrel-to-the ball guy. He's always been a good hitter and he's going to be a good hitter. With the veteran guys and some of these other young core guys improving, I think we'll have that luxury."
The spot isn't completely foreign to Ackley. Though he started 130 games in the first two spots of the order last year, he also started eight games at No. 7 and eight at No. 8, and he finished the year at .226.
• Hisashi Iwakuma gets the start on Monday when the Mariners travel to Phoenix Municipal to face the A's at 1:05 p.m. PT, then it will be Brandon Maurer on Tuesday against the Giants in a 7:05 p.m. game at Peoria Stadium.
• Joe Saunders will pitch in a Minor League game on Tuesday and Jeremy Bonderman will do the same on Wednesday. The rest of the Mariners have Wednesday off, their final off-day before breaking camp on March 29.
• Michael Morse wasn't in the lineup on Sunday, but he's carrying a hot bat in recent days. Morse has reached base in his last seven plate appearances with two home runs, a double, a single, a walk and two hit-by-pitches. He's batting .375 this spring with five home runs and 10 RBIs.