Felix Hernandez struggled with his command almost from the start. And for a while, he still had enough to keep the Seattle Mariners in front of the Chicago White Sox.
One big swing by Alex Rios sent the game in a different direction.
Hernandez left a changeup in the wrong spot in the sixth inning and Rios drove it into the seats in left field for a clutch two-run homer in Seattle’s 4-3 loss to Chicago on Saturday.
“I had the fastball. I didn’t have the command,” Hernandez said. “The command was not there. I was just trying to make good pitches. But the wind was really hard. Just one mistake — the homer.”
Rios’ drive on an 0-2 pitch sliced through a swirling wind and gave the White Sox a 3-1 lead. Alejandro De Aza singled and Dewayne Wise struck out before Rios connected for his second homer in two days. He also went deep Friday night, but the White Sox lost 8-7 in 10 innings.
“It’s all about the confidence,” he said. “When you have that confidence, you go up to the plate and you just think about seeing the ball and hitting the ball. You don’t think about other things that kind of change your approach.”
Hernandez (1-1) allowed four runs and six hits over 6 1-3 innings in his first try for win No. 100. The right-hander, who turns 27 on Monday, struck out three to give him 1,498 for his career.
“When I don’t have my command, it’s tough to pitch,” he said.
De Aza and Hector Gimenez each had a sacrifice fly as Chicago improved to 25-5 against Seattle since the start of the 2010 season. The White Sox will send ace Chris Sale to the mound on Sunday against Hisashi Iwakuma in the rubber game of the weekend set.
Seattle pulled within one on Michael Saunders’ two-run homer in the eighth, but the rally fizzled from there. Jesse Crain wriggled out of a jam to get the ball to Addison Reed, who tossed a perfect ninth for his third save.
“We had some scoring opportunities late,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We just didn’t really come up with anything. Saunders got us back in the game. We just weren’t able to capitalize on some of the opportunities we created for ourselves.”
The Mariners grabbed the lead in the second when Raul Ibanez doubled, moved up on a passed ball and scored on Jeff Keppinger’s two-out error in his first start of the season at first base. An error by pitcher Jose Quintana led to a five-run inning for the Mariners on Friday night, but Keppinger’s mistake on Dustin Ackley’s grounder proved to be a minor speed bump for the White Sox.
Third baseman Conor Gillaspie turned a slick double play to stop a Seattle threat in the fifth, then led off the bottom half with a drive over the head of Michael Morse in right for a triple. Alexei Ramirez grounded out for the first out, but Gimenez delivered a tying sacrifice fly.
Gillaspie went 2 for 3 and scored twice in his first start of the season. It also was his first game against Hernandez, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2010.
“I was pretty nervous today, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “He threw a couple of balls over the plate and you can’t miss pitches against a guy like that because you’re probably going to get out if you do. I got a little bit lucky. I got a couple of pretty good pitches to hit and I didn’t miss them.”
Rios went deep in the sixth and De Aza tacked on a sacrifice fly in the seventh as Hernandez dropped to 1-5 with a 4.88 ERA in eight career road starts against the White Sox.
“I don’t think he had his best stuff today,” Wedge said. “He always competes, he always pitches. He didn’t quite have the same fastball he typically has. It probably led to the secondary stuff.”
Lost in the shuffle was the performance of Dylan Axelrod, who allowed an unearned run and three hits over 5 2-3 innings in his season debut for Chicago.
Donnie Veal (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning for the win.
Mariners OF Franklin Gutierrez started the game on the bench, then struck out as a pinch hitter in the ninth. “I’m trying to keep him ahead of it,” Wedge said. “It was a long night last night and the cold weather and everything, it felt like it’s a smart thing to give him a day today.” Gutierrez played in just 40 games last season due to a myriad of injuries. … Keppinger went 0 for 4 and is 1 for 21 this season. … Ackley is off to a similarly slow start for the Mariners. He went 0 for 3 and is stuck in a 1-for-19 rut.
White Sox 4, Mariners 3
Seattle 010 000 020 — 3 6 1
Chicago 000 012 10x — 4 6 1
F.Hernandez, Furbush (7), Pryor (8) and Shoppach; Axelrod, Veal (6), N.Jones (7), Thornton (8), Crain (8), A.Reed (9) and Gimenez. W—Veal 1-0. L—F.Hernandez 1-1. Sv—A.Reed (3). HRs—Seattle, M.Saunders (1). Chicago, Rios (2).