SEATTLE – Amid the white-knuckle moments already delivered by the Seattle Mariners’ starting pitchers this season, Felix Hernandez was a cleansing breath.
Now the Mariners are holding theirs.
Their 21-year-old ace left Wednesday night’s game in the first inning because of tightness in his right elbow. Hernandez, who’d pitched 17 innings without allowing a run in his first two starts and recorded two of the Mariners’ five victories, will be examined today.
The Mariners – who lost 5-4 to the Minnesota Twins when the tying run was thrown out at the plate for the final out of the game – said Hernandez was pulled for precautionary reasons.
That report understated the looks of concern on the faces of Hernandez, manager Mike Hargrove and other team personnel when he left the mound. It’s also a generalization of Hernandez’s condition pending medical tests.
“I obviously don’t feel real good about it, but I don’t know if I should feel bad about it,” Hargrove said. “My gut feeling is Felix is going to be OK. But I have nothing to base that on.”
Hernandez had already dressed and was not in the clubhouse after the game.
The Mariners had a similar scare at spring training when closer J.J. Putz reported tightness in his right elbow, and he was ready for the season opener. He missed three weeks of games and, being a reliever, needed only one exhibition outing to get his arm ready.
Left-handed pitcher Arthur Rhodes is on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his elbow, although an MRI last week revealed ligament damage. Doctors recommended “Tommy John” surgery, although he is considering other options.
Hernandez, who pitched a one-hitter at Boston last Wednesday, wasn’t himself from the beginning against the Twins, and he lasted only 24 pitches. He’d given up two hits, a walk and a run-scoring wild pitch, and fell behind Justin Morneau two balls and one strike.
Then he threw a slider for ball three and held his right arm in the air, showing that something clearly wasn’t right. Hargrove bolted from the dugout, followed by pitching coach Rafael Chaves and two trainers.
“It was a blow for all of us,” Hargrove said.
Left-hander Jake Woods rushed himself into the game and pitched the next 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs in the second inning before shutting down the Twins through the sixth. Woods, George Sherrill and Julio Mateo combined to retire 22 of the final 24 Twins hitters, including the last 15 straight.
Then the Mariners came back.
They’d had three hits and put nobody past first base against Twins starter Carlos Silva through five innings, but broke through in the sixth when Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre hit back-to-back singles with nobody out. Two outs later, Richie Sexson blistered a line drive into the seats in left field for a three-run homer, pulling the Mariners within two runs.
Against Twins closer Joe Nathan in the ninth, the Mariners had runners on first and second with two outs when Jose Vidro singled to right field.
Vidro’s hit easily scored Jose Lopez to make the score 5-4 and, when Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer overran the ball, M’s third base coach Carlos Garcia took the ultimate chance. He waved Beltre to the plate.
Cuddyer retrieved the ball and threw to second baseman Luis Castillo, whose throw to the plate arrived in time for catcher Mike Redmond to tag Beltre for the final out of the game.
Hargrove defended Garcia’s decision.
“Hindsight being 20-20, I wish he had stayed there,” Hargrove said. “But when he sent him, I was glad he did because that’s the play to make.”
Today, Hargrove hopes his gut feeling on Hernandez turns out better.
Right fielder Jose Guillen, hit by a pitch on Tuesday, was scratched from the lineup just before the game.
Guillen stayed in the game after being hit on his right hand by a Ramon Ortiz fastball in the second inning. Hargrove said after that game that he appeared to be OK.
He was in Hargrove’s original lineup, then scratched minutes before game time. Ben Broussard, who played a considerable number of innings at spring training while Guillen recovered from elbow surgery, started in right instead.
Here are the pitching matchups for this weekend’s series at Anaheim: Miguel Batista vs. Joe Saunders on Friday, Horacio Ramirez vs. Bartolo Colon (first start this season) on Saturday, Jeff Weaver vs. Ervin Santana on Sunday. … Twins center fielder Torii Hunter, who suffered a bruised left shoulder while diving for a fly ball Tuesday, didn’t start. His status is day-to-day.