Felix Hernandez and battery mate Mike Zunino make quite a team. They were about all the Mariners needed in a 3-1 win over the Angels Wednesday night in front of 13,895 at Safeco Field.
Hernandez (7-1, 2.57 ERA) gave up one run on four hits and two walks to go with nine strikeouts. He was perfect his first time through the lineup and wasn’t too bad thereafter.
In fact, Hernandez had a complete-game shutout in his sights only to fall one out short. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols delivered back-to-back hits with two outs in the ninth inning for the Angels’ lone run. Manager Lloyd McClendon turned to closer Fernando Rodney for the final out after 116 pitches from his ace.
“(Felix) was phenomenal,” McClendon said. “I thought he had great command of all his pitches. His fastball was really, really exceptional tonight. I think that’s two times in a row you can seen him start to get stronger.
“Just a great night for him.”
Zunino provided all the offense with a 2-for-3 evening that included a two-out, two-RBI single in the second and a solo home run to lead off the eighth. Zunino has seven homers, five coming in Hernandez starts.
“The kid did alright tonight,” McClendon said. “He continues to impress, continues to grow. Every day is a new day for him, but he continues to get better.”
The 2-0 lead was important as Angels starter C.J. Wilson was on his game as well. Hernandez stayed aggressive working with a lead.
With runners on second and third and two out, Zunino took three off-speed pitches from Wilson before lining a fastball to the opposite field on a 3-1 count. Asked which at bat was his best, the 23-year-old catcher did not hesitate.
“The first,” Zunino said. ”I think when you can do that with two outs, put the team on the board early, and sorta see some pitches, (gives) you confidence as the game wore on.”
Howie Kendrick singled in the fourth to end Hernandez’s shutdown. In the fifth, he gave up another single to Erick Aybar. That was it until the ninth.
Los Angeles (29-23) mounted a small threat in the sixth when Collin Cowgill led off with a walk on four pitches, but a nice play from shortstop Nick Franklin led to a 6-4-3 double play. Smoak ranged into foul territory to retrieve a pop fly from Trout for the final out.
Hernandez seems to be as strong as he’s been recently, a few weeks removed from a flu that hampered him in Houston. He threw 94-95 mph with his fastball for the second start in a row, something not lost on him or his catcher.
“(I) still got it,” Hernandez said with a smile. “I feel really good. My elbow, my shoulder feel good. It’s all the work I put in every day.”
Zunino also sees improvement with each start.
“He’s just coming out and establishing the fastball early and just establishing the off-speed pitches when he needs to,” Zunino said. “His command has been really good and his stuff has just been electric.”
The Mariners hit Wilson hard April 1, generating eight hits and six runs against the left-hander. Wilson (6-4, 3.05 ERA) was much better this time around. After the Zunino hit, he retired 11 consecutive hitters (James Jones reached first on a wild pitch after striking out) before giving up a single to Stefen Romero in the sixth. He lasted 7.2 innings, yielding three runs on five hits and two walks to go with five strikeouts.
“He was on his game, too,” McClendon said of Wilson. “I thought it was a great-pitched ballgame from both sides. We were very fortunate to get a couple of runs in there.”
Seattle (26-26) kept pace with the AL West division-leading Oakland Athletics and gave itself an opportunity to win its first series since it took three of four from Oakland.
RHP Taijuan Walker, making his first rehab start since April 9, pitched three innings in Tacoma Wednesday. Walker, 21, gave up four runs on five hits and struck out three on 61 pitches . . . Hernandez won his fourth consecutive start and seventh game before June. He is the first Mariners pitcher to do so since Jamie Moyer in 2003 . . . Smoak has played in every Mariners game this season, starting all but one. With 1B/DH Corey Hart and 1B/OF Logan Morrison on the disabled list, McClendon said Smoak will continue to play every day because “he’s better when he (does).” If need be, Willie Bloomquist would fill in . . . Seattle amateur scouting director Tom McNamara spoke with the media prior to the game in his annual pre-draft media session. He said 2011 No. 2 overall pick Danny Hultzen (labrum, rotator cuff) is throwing on flat ground in Arizona as he continues to rehab every day in hopes of a 2015 return.