Once Dustin Ackley (two-run) and Abraham Almonte (solo) homered in the fifth inning, the only question was whether Felix Hernandez could keep his pitch count low enough to keep him in line for his 10th career shutout and 24th complete game. Hernandez didn’t quite achieve either, but still smoked the Oakland Athletics 3-1 Saturday at O.co Coliseum.
Only a shaky ninth, when Hernandez surrendered a solo home run to Jed Lowry and a single to Brandon Moss, whom he subsequently wild-pitched to second, did the Seattle ace falter. Manager Lloyd McClendon lifted him in favor of closer Fernando Rodney, who recorded his first save as a Mariner.
Throwing 101 pitches, 72 for strikes, and mixing a fastball and changeup, Hernandez improved to 2-0, 1.88 ERA and defeated the Athletics for the 16th time in his career. He allowed six hits, the one earned run, and had eight strikeouts vs. one walk, bringing his two-game total of K’s for 2014 to 19. That’s the most Hernandez has ever had in the first two games of a season (18 in 2007).
The Mariners, who lost the first game of the series 3-2 when Coco Crisp hit a 12th-inning, walk-off home run off Hector Noesi, improved to 4-1 on the season-opening seven-game road trip that is reduced to six games due to Friday’s postponement due to poor field conditions.
Before the ninth inning, the Athletics tested Hernandez just twice. In the fourth, Oakland placed runners at second and third with two outs, but Hernandez escaped the jam by striking out Yoenis Cespedes on three pitches.
After Hernandez yielded a one-out triple to Crisp in the sixth, he fanned Josh Donaldson with a changeup and induced Lowrie to pop out to Brad Miller at short.
The game was a pitcher’s duel for three innings. Oakland starter Dan Straily, who finished fourth in the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year voting, fanned four of the first six Mariners he faced and had six strikeouts through three innings. Hernandez, meanwhile, retired the first 11 he faced, with seven strikeouts, before giving up a single.
Everything changed in the Mariners’ fifth. After Kyle Seager, who entered the game 1-for-11, led off with a double, Ackley sent a 2-and-2 pitch from Straily over the wall in right field. The homer was Ackley’s first. Almonte followed a batter later with his first homer, another shot to right, for a 3-0 lead.
The now-three-game series ends Sunday. Erasmo Ramirez (1-0, 2.57) will go for his second win of the season and will be opposed by RHP Sonny Gray (0-0, 0.00).
The Mariners get their first scheduled day off Monday in advance of Tuesday’s home opener at Safeco Field. James Paxton (1-0, 0.00) will throw against Hector Santiago (0-1, 7.20) for the second time this season. Paxton defeated Santiago Wednesday.
NOTES: Robinson Cano had the only multi-hit game for the Mariners, going 2-for-3 . . . The Mariners went 1-for-3 with runners in scoring position and left five stranded . . . 1B Justin Smoak, who went 6-for-13, with seven RBIs, in the opening series in Anaheim, is 0-for-8 in Oakland, his BA dropping to .286 . . . RHP Chris Young had been scheduled to make Friday’s start, but manager Lloyd McClendon elected to keep Felix Hernandez in his regular turn. With the Mariners having days off Tuesday and Thursday, it’s not known when Young will get a rotation turn. For the time being, he’ll work out of the bullpen . . .Tuesday’s home opener is “virtually” sold out, according to the Mariners. Scattered single tickets remain. Any tickets returned to the box office will be added immediately to the inventory. Fans can check mariners.com/tickets<http://