PEORIA, Ariz. -- Felix Hernandez couldn't wait to get back to work, arriving at the Mariners complex at 6:30 a.m. on Friday, as he returned for the first time since signing his new contract in Seattle.
"It's the first day he's ever beaten me here," said pitching coach Carl Willis. "It's great."
But the Mariners won't rush Hernandez into things this spring.
"We just need to get him ready for April," said Willis, referring to the regular-season opener on April 1 in Oakland.
With that in mind -- and knowing Hernandez has thrown 230-plus innings for four straight years -- they'll go slow initially and build him up later in the spring. That process is easier now that Hernandez has opted out of the World Baseball Classic, which would have required stretching him out in time to pitch for Venezuela in early March.
"Now with the fact he's going to be in our camp the entire time, we're here a long time," Willis said. "We'll play catch a few days. He probably won't throw a bullpen till sometime early to middle of next week. Then we'll build him up accordingly.
"Last year was a little different for him, because we started the season early in Japan, and we had to get him going right out of the box. This year we've got plenty of time. We'll slow-play it here at the beginning."
The rest of the pitchers in camp will have thrown their second 10-minute bullpen session by Saturday, then will take two days off and come back with live batting practice next week as the full-squad practices get underway.
Cactus League action begins next Friday, but Hernandez won't start throwing in games until a little later in the spring.
"He knows the program," said manager Eric Wedge. "He knows his program, more importantly. Obviously you can trust him. He's going to be honest with you about how he feels and where he's at. And he does the work. Those are great attributes."
Morse relishes return to Mariners
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Among the 24 position players who officially reported to Mariners camp on Friday, none had a bigger smile than outfielder Michael Morse, who returned to the club's Spring Training complex for the first time since 2009.
The 31-year-old was acquired from the Nationals in a trade last month, and was so eager to get to work he checked in at 8 a.m., not aware that physical exams weren't scheduled until the afternoon.
Morse got in some early hitting Thursday afternoon when he first arrived, and will be on the field Saturday morning with the rest of his teammates for the first full-squad workout.
"It's pretty cool being back here," Morse said, stashing equipment into his locker in the same clubhouse he shared while coming up with the Mariners as a young prospect. "It was funny yesterday in the cage, me and Raul [Ibanez] were hitting and I told him, 'Man, I feel like you and me are early right now to camp and we're still waiting on Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson and Jose Lopez to get here.'
"But it's really cool. Not a lot of guys get a chance to go back to the team where they started, especially to come back and help this organization get back on top. I definitely feel it's a privilege and a blessing to be here. I feel comfortable here. This is where it all started for me. I didn't get a real good opportunity before, but now I'm just going to relax and have fun.
"That's what I do is have fun. When you're winning, you're having fun."
One change for Morse: When he played in Seattle, he always was known as Mike. But after getting traded to the Nationals, he switched his first name to Michael and that's the preferred moniker now.
"I've always been called Michael," he said. "My name's Michael. But when I was drafted here, they started calling me Mike. When I left, I figured it was time to start a new page. Michael, let's see how that works.
"I don't really care. It's not that big a deal to me. But it does sound better when they announce my name 'Michaaaaeeeeeel Morse' instead of 'Mike Morse,'" he said with a laugh. "Those are the very important things."
Zunino, Hicks off to nice start
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Rookie Mike Zunino has a lot to learn at his first Major League camp, but the Mariners first-round Draft pick from last June is soaking things up as quickly as possible, and has fit in well in the opening days of Spring Training.
"It's a blast," the 21-year-old said. "There's a bunch of great guys here. We've been doing everything to get back into shape, and I've been having a great time. I spend a lot of time with the catchers and [catching coordinator Jeff] Datz and all those guys. I'm just having fun with them and getting to know the pitchers. It's been great."
Zunino has displayed impressive power in early batting practice sessions, but his biggest goal has been getting familiar with the 30 pitchers in camp.
"Mentally, the relationship with them takes time," he said. "But to catch all the guys as much as I can, just to have that in your memory bank, is all I'm trying to do right now."
Fellow rookie catcher John Hicks, a fourth-round selection in the 2011 Draft out of Virginia, has also shown well. The Mariners love Hicks' athleticism, and manager Eric Wedge noted he'd thrown out more than 50 percent of base stealers in his first two seasons in the Minor League system at Class A Clinton and High Desert.
"His athleticism shines through as far as I'm concerned, just the way he moves, the way his body works, the way he runs," Wedge said. "As I mentioned yesterday, I'm very impressed with our crew of catchers. And not just behind the plate. You have to appreciate the way they swing the bat, too."
• Veteran right-handers Jeremy Bonderman and Jon Garland, both coming back from arm problems, threw well in their second bullpen sessions of the spring on Friday.
"They both looked good today," said manager Eric Wedge. "Obviously those two guys are on a little different program, just because of their history. One, the success they've had at the big-league level and two, just because they haven't pitched for a while. They're both very ready to pitch. They came in here ready to go, and I think that was evident with what you saw today in the bullpens."
• Right-handed reliever Jhonny Nunez and catcher Ronny Paulino missed their third straight day of workouts on Friday, as both continue battling visa issues getting out of the Dominican Republic. Wedge said Nunez was expected to arrive Friday night and Paulino should arrive in the next few days.
• Alex Liddi, who'll compete in the World Baseball Classic for Italy next month, showed up for camp looking fit and ready. "He's stronger," said Wedge. "He's lean and strong. He's in great shape." Both Liddi and Vinnie Catricala will be given time at third base, first base and left field again this spring.