SEATTLE – As another Mariners season heads down the stretch with more talk of the future than the postseason, there’s still at least one reason to tune in every fifth day: Felix Hernandez.
When Seattle’s ace is at his best, he gets teammates out of trouble. He masks mistakes.
The right-hander did it again Sunday as the Mariners blanked the Cleveland Indians 3-0 at Safeco Field in front of 22,621.
“He’s been incredible,” Mariners designated hitter Russell Branyan said. “You can speculate on his numbers, what they would be if he got run support or what have you, but the brunt of it is he’s pitched his butt off all year. We just haven’t scored for him. But today we got a couple of runs for him and he went out there and shut another team out.”
Hernandez started by retiring the first seven batters he faced, four on strikeouts.
When he gave up his first hit of the game, Luis Valbuena’s hot shot down the third-base line just past a diving Jose Lopez in the third inning, Hernandez didn’t get flustered. He regrouped and forced Chris Gimenez to hit a grounder to Lopez.
When an error ensued, a bad throw from Lopez and a poor attempt at a catch by second baseman Chone Figgins, Hernandez didn’t get flustered. He got the next two outs, striking out shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to end the inning.
“He seems to turn it up with runners on base,” Mariners manager Daren Brown said.
With a slim, one-run lead courtesy of Michael Saunders’ RBI fielder’s choice in the second, the Mariners needed Hernandez to put zeros on the scoreboard.
That’s exactly what he did.
“After the first one (run), just pitch the game,” said Hernandez, who is 4-1 with a 0.20 ERA his last six starts. “Do your job.”
He went eight innings, giving up four hits and striking out nine. He fanned the final batter of the inning six times.
When asked what was working, Hernandez, who now leads the major leagues with 209 strikeouts, smirked and said, “Everything.”
“The key was first-pitch strikes,” he said. “Get ahead of the hitters and use my other pitches.”
With two outs and Josh Wilson on first in the fifth, Ichiro hit what became a single up the middle.
Cabrera came up with the ball and it looked like his foot caught second base, but second-base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt called Wilson safe at second.
Cabrera argued the call and Indians manager Manny Acta came out to plead his case. Eventually Acta was ejected for the second time this season, the fourth time in his career.
It was a sloppy game overall for the Indians, who committed three errors.
Branyan gave the Mariners a couple of insurance runs with a solo home run to right field in the sixth inning and an RBI double in the eighth.
“This year it’s worked out to where we haven’t given him (Hernandez) a ton of support and he’s having an incredible year, so more times than not, one or two runs do the trick for him,” Branyan said. “I think it was important today to give him a little breathing room.”
Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez did not start for the second straight game because of a stomach ailment. … The Tacoma Rainiers, the Mariners Triple-A team, came up with a 9-0 win over the Fresno Grizzlies to win the Pacific North division and advance to the playoffs. M’s manager Daren Brown is quite interested, having managed the Rainiers the past four years. “It’s special when you accomplish something like that and it’s important for those kids to go through that,” Brown said.
Mariners 3, Indians 0
E—J.Nix 2 (14), A.Cabrera (10), Figgins (16). LOB—Cleveland 7, Seattle 6. 2B—Branyan (19). HR—Branyan (23), off J.Gomez. RBIs—Branyan 2 (51), M.Saunders (30). SB—I.Suzuki (36), Figgins (35). CS—Figgins (11), A.Moore (1). S—A.Cabrera. RLSP—Cleveland 3 (A.Cabrera, Hafner, Gimenez); Seattle 3 (Jo.Lopez, Figgins, Langerhans). RMU—Choo, Jo.Lopez, Langerhans. DP—Seattle 1 (Figgins, Jo.Wilson).
|J.Gomez L, 3-3||6||7||2||2||0||3||102||3.07|
|F.Hernandez W, 11-10||8||4||0||0||1||9||111||2.30|
|Aardsma S, 28-33||1||0||0||0||0||1||9||3.69|
HBP—by F.Hernandez (J.Nix, Choo). T—2:26. A—22,621 (47,878).