Gonzales, not King Felix, to start opener for M's

PEORIA, Arizona -- The Seattle Mariners, for the first time since 2008, will have a new pitcher on the mound on Opening Day, as manager Scott Servais told Felix Hernandez that he would not be on the mound to start the 2019 season.

Instead, Servais said Saturday that Marco Gonzales would get the ball against the Oakland Athletics on March 20 in Japan. New Japanese pitcher Yusei Kikuchi will pitch the second game of the series for Seattle.

Hernandez, who is in the final season of a seven-year, $175 million contract, has 11 Opening Days starts in his 14-year major league career, including 10 in a row. Last year, the Venezuelan-born right-hander became the seventh pitcher in major league history to make 10 straight Opening Day starts.

"I am disappointed, but I understand [the decision]," Hernandez told ESPN. "I did not have a good year last year, so I understand that part. But only that part. It hurts me because of all the years that I've been here, but that's the way baseball is. This is a business."

A visibly upset Hernandez told ESPN that Servais informed him that he was slated to start one of the Mariners' exhibition games in Japan and an exhibition game in Seattle, and that his first official start this season would be on April 1 against the Los Angeles Angels.

The Mariners will open the 2019 season in Tokyo, Japan, with a two-game set vs. the Oakland Athletics on March 20 and 21 at the Tokyo Dome. They will also play Tokyo's Yomiuri Giants in two exhibition games on March 17 and March 18.

Hernandez's 11 career Opening Day starts are ranked 10th-most in MLB history, tied with Fergie Jenkins, Dennis Martinez and CC Sabathia. Hall of Famer Tom Seaver is the all-time record holder with 16 Opening Day starts.

Hernandez earned the moniker of "King Felix" about a year after he debuted with the Mariners, a title he secured when he came in second in AL Cy Young voting after posting a 2.49 earned run average in his 19-win season in 2009. A year later, Hernandez was voted the AL Cy Young winner after finishing with a 13-12 record and a major-league-leading 2.27 ERA.

Last season was the worst of Hernandez's career, posting a career-worst 5.55 ERA with an 8-14 record over 28 starts.

Gonzales went 13-9 with a 4.00 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 29 starts for the Mariners in 2018. He signed a two-year, $1.9 million deal in November and can earn additional bonuses.

He was up and down last season, winning five straight starts in June and July, when he was one of the top pitchers in the American League. He lost all four of his starts in August as he dealt with a neck injury.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.