CLEVELAND – Felix Hernandez sat at a clubhouse table, black towel draped over his head and shoulders like a beaten boxer.
It was an apt look for a Mariners pitcher pounded mercilessly by the Cleveland Indians in an early-round knockout. By the time this 9-3 loss on Wednesday night was finally done, little-used relief pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma had actually logged more innings on the mound than the onetime Cy Young Award winner.
And that’s likely why Hernandez wore this look of defeat so well. He’d periodically lean back in silence in his chair to scan the room, while tablemates Alex Liddi, Brandon League and Mike Carp said nothing.
It was as if Hernandez felt comfortable under the security of that towel. As if he feared that, by removing it, he’d wind up just as he’d been for 3 2/3 tortuous innings against the Indians. Exposed.
“It’s been a while, man,” he finally told reporters, after standing up and removing the towel from his head. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a game like that.”
Two years to the month, to be exact. Although the eight runs – seven earned – allowed against the Angels in 3 1/3 innings at Safeco Field on May 7, 2010, came courtesy of just five hits, three of them home runs in the same inning.
But the punishment here, in front of 12,092 fans at Progressive Field, was much more a sustained beating. By the time it was done, Hernandez had been torched for eight runs – six earned – on 10 hits, three walks, a hit batter and a wild pitch.
He needed 103 pitches just to record 11 outs and could not get the 12th. Three of the final five batters he faced hit doubles while the last one, Michael Brantley, belted a run-scoring single.
The only thing that spared Hernandez another run against was an inning-ending rundown play after Shawn Kelley came on and yielded a single. Iwakuma took over in the fifth, gave up a solo homer in the sixth to Travis Hafner and otherwise looked fine in collecting four more innings on his résumé.
“I only pitched four innings, but I’ve felt stronger each time out,” Iwakuma said, through interpreter Daisuke Sekiba. “I can still pitch five or six innings if I have to.”
Seattle has lost five of six on this road trip.
“I had good pitches, but the sinker was not there today,” Hernandez said. “My breaking ball was good. My change-up was good. It was down, but they didn’t swing.”
The Mariners tried to come back from an early 4-1 deficit as Dustin Ackley hit a two-run homer in the third to make it a 4-3 game.
Hernandez then imploded in the fourth.
Manager Eric Wedge took some solace from the offense again showing signs of life. Ackley has a 12-game hitting streak.
“Right now, I’m starting to feel a lot better,” Ackley said. “Right now, my approach the last four or five games … I’m probably as close to last year as I’ve been.”