PEORIA, Ariz. – It’s become a spring staple with the Mariners over the years that Felix Hernandez dismisses whatever happens in the Cactus League. Good or bad.
His attitude is it’s all a meaningless prelude for opening day. And there, Hernandez’s record is close to impeccable: 6-0 with a 1.49 ERA in eight season-opening starts.
Hernandez threw six shutout innings on Friday before the Mariners, after blowing a two-run lead, rallied for 5-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox at Peoria Stadium.
Nelson Cruz tied the game with a two-run homer in the ninth inning before Leonys Martin hit a walk-off rocket to right with one out in the 10th. The Mariners improved to 12-12-2.
Both homers came against Jacob Turner, a former first-round pick who missed most of last season because of an elbow injury.
The takeaway, though, from the Mariners’ point of view was Hernandez, who is in line for one more spring start.
“We’re getting close to opening day,” he said, “so it means a lot. Today, I was just trying to throw my fastball. I had good command. Both sides of the plate.
“My change-up wasn’t sharp, but I used my fastball, and my slider was good.”
Hernandez gave up five hits but had no walks while striking out three in an 80-pitch performance that included 55 strikes. He benefited from some at-‘em balls that were hit hard but generally appeared to be in top form.
“His pitch count was up a little bit in the first couple of innings,” manager Scott Servias said. “But he had a pretty easy fifth and got through the sixth right at 80 pitches. That’s exactly what we want to get today.”
The Mariners, after scoring 22 runs in the previous two games, started fast by extending Chicago starter Jose Quintana to 32 pitches in a two-run first inning.
The runs scored on Adam Lind’s sacrifice fly and an error by shortstop Tyler Saladino on Franklin Gutierrez’s two-out grounder. But Quintana also went six innings and allowed nothing more.
So it was still 2-0 when Justin De Fratus replaced Hernandez to start the seventh inning. It was De Fratus’ first outing since March 15 – he was released and re-signed in the interim to a minor-league contract.
It didn’t go well.
The White Sox (12-10-1) loaded the bases on a one-out single and two two-out walks before former Mariner Austin Jackson crushed a meatball slider on a 1-2 pitch for a grand slam.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Chicago shortstop Tyler Saladino atoned for a run-scoring error in the first inning with a terrific play from the hole to retire Nori Aoki for the second out in the fifth inning.
Saladino made a sliding backhand stop on the grass and, from his knees, bounced a throw to first that beat Aoki. Jose Abreu completed the web gem with a clean scoop for the out.
PLUS: Luis Sardinas kept the game tied in the 10th inning by throwing out a runner at the plate from deep short…right-handed reliever Blake Parker boosted his bid for a bullpen job by retiring four batters on nine pitches after replacing an ineffective Justin De Fratus…reliever Tony Zych had a one-two-three ninth inning with two strikeouts.
MINUS: The Mariners had just two hits before Robinson Cano led off the ninth inning with a double. Nelson Cruz followed with a game-tying homer…Sardinas was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts…The Mariners struck out 12 times.
QUOTABLE: Leonys Martin was batting .171 (7 for 41) before his walk-off homer.
“He’s actually hit the ball very well,” manager Scott Servais said. “He’s hit a lot of hard balls and doesn’t have a lot of hits to show for it. He smoked that ball. That ball was crushed.”