BY Art Thiel 08:40PM 06/29/2011

Thiel: Bedard hurt, Felix off, Mariners down

Bad luck, says Felix of his losing outing. Well, no — bad luck is losing Bedard to yet another injury.

Josh Bard catches Felix Hernandez

An emergency call-up Wednesday, Mariners catcher Josh Bard had to dig a few of Felix Fernandez's pitches out of the dirt / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Despite giving up 10 hits and five runs to the Atlanta Braves, Felix Hernandez insisted post-game Wednesday that wasn’t pitching — for him — poorly.

“I was painting the corners,” he said. “Good pitches. No luck today.”

Indeed, in a 5-3 win, the Atlanta Braves delivered upon him a healthy share of bloops and bleeders. But Hernandez also walked three and threw two wild pitches in one inning.

Even the Mariners catcher, Josh Bard – called up from Tacoma after some real bad luck, the injury loss of two catchers in one game Tuesday  – knew better.

“He was up (in the strike zone) a little today,” Bard said. “I think he feels like he has to pitch a shutout every time, and sometimes he gets a little fine.”

Hernandez pitched, for him, a mediocre game, because he was overdoing things due to team circumstances. It wasn’t bad luck.

Bad luck came just before the game when it was announced that that pitcher Erik Bedard, one of the best comeback stories in baseball this season, was put on the disabled list. Not because of a recurrence of shoulder problems, but because of a heretofore undisclosed knee strain suffered during an otherwise splendid outing against the Monday — which he lost.

That is bad luck. The one guy who was playing himself into the stratosphere – he gets traded to a contender, and/or keeps pitching well enough to elevate his base salary of $1 million up to nearly $7 million by hitting incentives – comes up lame.

“We hope it’s not much more (than the 15-game minimum),” said Mariners manager Eric Wedge, without a lot of confidence.  “He tweaked it . . . a grade-one (lowest) strain.”

Given the skepticism around Bedard’s health history in Seattle, eye-rolls are inevitable. But before your optic nerves go grade one, consider that after rehabbing through three shoulder surgeries, the man is not volunteering for the whirlpool now.

This is bad luck. Whether he is baseball-brittle is more a question for orthopedists and soothsayers. But his return in 2011 that helped keep the Mariners relevant halfway through the season more than answers the question of his will.

The injury also resolves another matter. General manager Jack Zduriencik is going to have a more leisurely July than was anticipated, and Mariners fans will have one less thing about which to speculate.

As a practical matter, Bedard was the only player, by dint of age, contract and talent, who was sufficiently tradable to acquire a hitter for any attempt at stretch drive. The keep-him-or-deal-him debate was destined to keep alive the sports-talk-radio industry all by itself (or do you want to hear about two locked-out pro sports leagues in a down economy?).

But now . . . silence. Bedard returns to the damaged-goods table, one row down from the blue-light specials.

Even if he gets back for a couple of good starts before the July 31 trade deadline, no general manager is going to risk serious treasure on a pitcher with a second damaged part, no matter his ERA. And in a season when any hitter with an average above .250 looks like Ty Cobb, rival GMs are in no position to deal anyone who can make the Mariners a contender.

From the big-picture standpoint, that should relieve pressure on management, which historically has not responded well in such situations. Given the weakness of the division and the 10-year absence from the playoffs, the temptation loomed to do something silly by over-reaching for talent to make a pennant race.

Beyond irrational sentiment to salvage a dwindling fan base, there remained a more pragmatic rationale to bust a move: Having Hernandez and his fellow starters feel no obligation to be Hercules every time out, such as Wednesday.

Hernandez was outpitched by Derek Lowe, the one-time Mariners rookie who is now 38 and in his 15th major league season. Lowe is still a solid pitcher, but he gets more solid when staked to a 4-0 lead. Hernandez, meanwhile, is getting flustered with repeated deficits, even if dares not speak the truth publicly.

In the current run of 12 consecutive interleague games (with three more coming this weekend against San Diego), the Mariners have scored 30 runs. In the three-game home sweep by the Braves, Seattle led for only six of the 27 innings.

Perpetually pitching from behind takes a toll, even on experienced pros such as Hernandez. But absent a desire to poach the remaining premier talent in the minor leagues – a brutal long-term habit that is evoked by the presence of Lowe, part of the 1997 Jason Varitek trade that remains a glowing scar on longtime Mariners fans – the Mariners have no practical choice but to play the hand previously dealt.

The Mariners reached midseason at 39-42 playing within the confines of payroll and talent. The pace probably won’t last, mostly because they can’t count on game-winning runs being scored off wild pitches on intentional walks, or ground-outs becoming hits by deflecting off second base, or balls lost in the sun.

The Mariners have had their share of good luck. Now they’re experiencing the part where the cosmos gets even.


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