SEATTLE – Felix Hernandez was back to being King Felix on Thursday night.
But if it wasn’t for sudden power source Adam Kennedy, Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners might have found themselves in the all-too-familiar position of hard-luck losers.
Hernandez pitched 7 2/3 shutout innings, and Kennedy carried an anemic offense with his second home run in as many games to lift the Mariners to a 1-0 win over Oakland at Safeco Field.
Hernandez outdueled A’s starter Brandon McCarthy (1-1) in a game that saw just nine hits and only four baserunners reach second base. The Mariners’ ace allowed just four hits, then got help from relievers Jamey Wright and Brandon League to record the Mariners’ first shutout win of the season.
“From now on, that’s the way I need to pitch,” said Hernandez, who threw a season-high 126 pitches in the win. “… I was on all night.”
Kennedy, who had just three home runs in his previous 168 games heading into Wednesday’s date with Detroit, homered for the second time in three at-bats when he hit a solo shot in the bottom of the fourth inning Thursday night.
That marked one of only four hits for the Mariners, who didn’t have another runner move beyond first base.
Other than the Kennedy homer, McCarthy was just as effective as Hernandez, the reigning Cy Young winner. He gave up just four hits in eight innings of work while fanning six.
Hernandez (2-2) carried the savvy of a veteran for most of the evening, with the brief exception of the visible frustration he showed after giving up a fourth-inning walk. He recovered from that to record his fifth strikeout.
In the top of the seventh, Hernandez got a hand from his defense after giving up a leadoff single to Oakland’s Josh Willingham. The next batter, Ryan Sweeney, hit a sharp liner to third base, where Chone Figgins snared the ball and doubled up Willingham. That play drew a fist pump from Hernandez.
After giving up a walk, Hernandez got some help again when shortstop Brendan Ryan went into the hole to backhand a sharp grounder and made a leaping throw to first to retire the side.
Hernandez gave up a hit and a walk in the top of the eighth inning before Wright came on in relief with two outs and runners on first and second. Wright forced a fielder’s choice groundout by Conor Jackson, the only batter he faced.
League gave up a leadoff single in the ninth but got help from Kennedy’s over-the-shoulder catch on a foul ball en route to his fourth save.
Hernandez, who had given up 18 hits and nine earned runs in his previous two starts, was in control for most of the night. His worst throw may have come on a pickoff move to first base in the third inning. His errant throw got under the glove of Kennedy and allowed Cliff Pennington to move to second base before a groundout ended that inning.
“He was special tonight,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He commanded the ballgame all night, and he made the pitches when he had to. His stuff is as good as anyone’s in the game, and he really stepped up for us tonight.”
Box score on page B4