BY John Hickey 10:42PM 04/26/2011

Mariner offense gives Hernandez a boost

It was a rarity last year, but Felix continues to get help from his friends this season despite the team’s overall hitting woes.

Mariners ace Felix Hernandez got his third win Tuesday in Detroit as the hitters come through. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest file

Felix Hernandez spent much of the 2010 season seeing the Mariners let him down offensively.

Six games into the Cy Young Award winner’s 2011 season, the script doesn’t appear to be quite the same.

Yes, Seattle’s hitters are still far from where they’d hoped to be. But twice now in Hernandez’s six starts they’ve come up big for him.

Back on April 11 Hernandez put Seattle in a 7-0 hole, but the hitters rallied to get an 8-7 win, although he didn’t get the decision.

Tuesday, the Mariners came up with six extra-base hits, all of them while Hernandez was in the game, and they put together a four-run fifth inning rally that led to a 7-3 Seattle win in Detroit.

“I didn’t have my good stuff today,’’ Hernandez said afterward, “but I was battling, battling. I didn’t have a good feel for my breaking ball. I had a good sinker, but my breaking ball wasn’t there. I didn’t throw even one strike in the bullpen.

“It was like, ‘Whoa – something’s going on.’ ’’

What was going on is that, while Hernandez was fiddling with his pitches, Mariner bats were starting to burn with an unexpected flame.

“We’re very capable of doing that (the extra-base hits) if we put together better at-bats,’’ manager Eric Wedge said. “We definitely have guys capable of doing more.’’

Tuesday, pitching in the city where he made his big league debut back in 2005, it was clear in the early going that Hernandez didn’t have his best stuff. An error by Brendan Ryan to start the bottom of the first inning led to an unearned run. Then, after home runs by Miguel Olivo – more on that later – and Justin Smoak gave Seattle a 3-1 lead, Hernandez coughed up the lead by giving up a two-run double to Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge.

But Seattle, which had been averaging less than four runs per game, bailed Hernandez out with a four-run fourth inning against Detroit lefty Phil Coke en route to a 7-3 victory in the opener of a six-game road trip.

“We’re working to get better offensively,’’ Wedge said. “We have a lot of guys who are grinding, trying to make better contact.’’

The fifth inning was all about grinding. Ryan led off with a single, and one out later Jack Wilson doubled. Ichiro Suzuki snapped the three-all tie with a rocket single up the middle, a ball hit too hard for Wilson to try and score.

With the outfield playing up close to try and make sure Chone Figgins didn’t drop a cheap hit just over the infield, Figgins hit a deep shot that even fleet center fielder Austin Jackson couldn’t track it down. Figgins had a triple and the Mariners had two more runs.

They added one more when reliever Brayan Villarreal walked Milton Bradley, then threw errantly in trying to pick Bradley off, allowing Figgins to score what proved to be the final run of the game.

All of which went down well with Hernandez.

“There’s more offense to come,’’ Hernandez said. “It was nice to see a bunch of runs early. But I didn’t relax. I tried to pitch like it was a one-run game.’’

He did, retiring the last seven men he faced in order after Inge’s double, and relievers David Pauley and Brandon League finished up allowing just one more base runner.

Much of the postgame chat was about Olivo’s homer. He hit a laser line drive to left, the kind of shot that he hit three times on the last home stand, all of them caught.

This one should have been caught, too, but as left fielder Ryan Raburn reached up, the ball hit his glove, skipped off it and carried over the fence.

“Miguel hit the ball so hard last week, so for him to get a break like that, that’s perfect,’’ Wilson said. “It’s good to see guys getting back on track.’’

That would include Smoak. In his second at-bat since his return following the death of his father last week, he followed Olivo’s fourth-inning double with a homer to left.

“I thought about it,’’ Wedge said of Smoak coming back from bereavement with a homer. “I’m sure he was thinking about it, too. It was a special day for him, coming back and contributing the way he did.’’

Twitter: @JHickey3


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