Backup catcher Henry Blanco, acquired by the Mariners Friday, improbably swatted a grand slam off A.J. Griffin in the sixth inning Saturday, and Felix Hernandez did the rest as the Mariners defeated the Oakland Athletics 4-0 at O.com Coliseum. Blanco, a career .226 hitter with his 11th team in 16 seasons, whacked a four-seam fastball on the inner half of the plate over the wall in left. It barely stayed fair.
It was Blanco’s first home run since July 19, 2012 (off Mike Leake of Cincinnati) and his first grand slam since May 12, 2000 (off Pittsburgh’s Jason Schmidt).
Blanco’s four-ply swat also marked Seattle’s fourth grand slam of the season following Dustin Ackley at Toronto (May 4), Raul Ibanez at New York (May 15) and Kyle Seager vs. Chicago (June 5).
Blanco hadn’t been on anybody’s radar until the Mariners decided to call up Mike Zunino Wednesday from AAA Tacoma. The Mariners then determined that it needed a veteran mentor and tutor for Zunino, and that starter Kelly Shoppach, a .196 hitter, didn’t fit that bill. So the Mariners designated Shoppach and signed Blanco, who hit .184/.262/.263 in 15 games for Toronto before it designated him for assignment June 7.
The Mariners (31-38) have won two in a row and four of five after losing four of five to the Yankees and Chicago White Sox.
Hernandez (8-4, 2.32 ERA) worked 7.0 innings, allowed five hits and struck out eight and walked one. He has won three of his past four starts along with a no-decision.
After four inconsequential innings, the Athletics got Jeff Lowrie to third base in the fifth with one out after he doubled, but Hernandez retired Chris Young on a fly ball and Endy Chavez nailed Lowrie at the plate attempting to score to complete a double play.
Kendrys Morales opened the sixth with a single and advanced to third when Michael Morse doubled to center. After Griffin intentionally walked Michael Saunders, Blanco unloaded on the first pitch in his debut game with Seattle.
The Athletics got two aboard in the seventh singles by Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Moss, but Hernandez whiffed Josh Donaldson and induced Lowrie into a double play.
After Hernandez departed, Charlie Furbush worked an uneventful eighth, then allowed the leadoff hitter, Coco Crisp, to single to center to open the ninth. Manager Eric Wedge brought in Yoervis Medina, who struggled, walking Derek Norris on four pitches that weren’t close. But Medina settled down and sealed the win.
The Mariners and Athletics close out the series Sunday with Seattle having an opportunity to sweep in Oakland for the first time since April 10-12, 2009.
Hisashi Iwakuma (7-1, 1.79) goes opposite Bartolo Colon (8-2, 2.92). The Mariners have four in Anaheim before returning to Safeco Field for a three-game series against Oakland June 21-23.
NOTES: Wedge said there is a possibility Justin Smoak could rejoin the Mariners during the club’s next series. Smoak, with AAA Tacoma, is recovering from a right oblique strain . . . Blanco caught Hernandez during the World Baseball Classic when they represented Venezuela. Wedge said rookie Mike Zunino will return to the lineup Sunday . . . Seattle’s starting pitchers have seven consecutive quality starts since June 7, including Hernandez’s Saturday.