BY Art Thiel 07:10PM 06/29/2014

Thiel: Felix and Cano show worthy of more help

Felix Hernandez delivers an eight-inning one-hitter, and Robinson Cano delivers the game-breaking homer. Now the club bosses need to deliver some roster support.

Felix Hernandex again was at his apex Sunday with a one-hitter and 9 strikeouts. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Norrthwest file

If Sunday was a glimpse of how the second half of the season will go, the Mariners eagerly will plant a sloppy smooch on it: Felix dominates and Cano eviscerates.

The premier tandem explained why the Mariners invested $415 million in their professional lives. Hernandez threw an eight-inning one-hitter, and Cano hit a two-run homer. Ballgame.

The 3-0 triumph over a decent Cleveland team in front of 26,171 at Safeco not only made for a third consecutive series win, it was further evidence that the Mariners are sufficiently competitive to prompt investment in the roster prior to the trade deadline.

At midseason, they have made the case that the postseason is reachable — Seattle is 23-14 against teams that entered Sunday with a .500 or better record — and maybe plausible if they can hire another veteran hitter or starting pitcher to win one game every 10 days or so that would otherwise be a loss.

It’s plain that the Mariners are competitive, and just as plain the talent strains to do so. In beating the Indians two of three, they scored six runs, an especially paltry total considering they were stifled by two obscure pitchers. Saturday, they were nearly no-hit by Josh Timlin, and Sunday rookie T.J. House, pitching his seventh major league game, messed with them until Cano took over.

It can be argued that in this era of overwhelming pitching that nearly every team’s offense will periodically look feeble. But few have been gone 12 years from the playoffs like the Mariners, and none of them invested $240 million in a single player promised to be THE difference-maker.

He did it in the sixth inning Sunday, taking House to the house with a laser shot into the right field seats for his fifth home run that broke a scoreless tie. But the set-up is what may have bothered House, and it was a little freakish.

Michael Saunders, who struck out three times, began the sixth with a swinging bunt that he beat out for the Mariners’ fourth hit only because House fielded the nubber and threw it past first baseman Nick Swisher. Saunders alertly made it a two-base error by running hard to third.

Up next was Cano, who in addition to being unhappy with an 0-for-14 slump, was further irked with a House offering that came at his head.

“Nobody likes a ball coming at your head,” Cano said. Moments later, he exacted his revenge with a ball over everyone’s heads.

But reliance on the failure of a rookie pitcher’s poise is a thin premise for contention. The Mariners have the capacity for big production, as they showed last week with 20 runs combined in the first two games of the Red Sox. And they are vulnerable to the swoon, with several position players in their first or second seasons.

The month before the trade deadline should be fraught with opportunity to add veteran muscle. As far as starting pitching, help from one direction is assured as soon as Monday — Taijuan Walker will make his season debut in the starting rotation when the Mariners begin a six-game road trip in Houston.

After Sunday’s game, OF Stefen Romero was sent down to AAA Tacoma to make room for Walker, who has rehabbed his shoulder into a position where he is back to being the guy that thrilled Mariners bosses in a September call-up.

The Mariners are careful to check their expectations for Walker. But Sunday, they were free to gush about Hernandez, who moved to 10-2 after allowing only a fifth-inning grounder up the middle off the bat handle of 3B Lonnie Chisenhall, a slow bounder that  escaped the reach of Cano “by about a step,” he said.

Asked if he was disappointed in the soft hit, Hernandez — who in his past nine starts is 6-1 with a 1.30 ERA and is tied with the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka for the American League ERA lead at 2.10 — was unfazed.

“No,” he said, smiling. “It happens.”

Hernandez, pitching with an extra day of rest, said he had a strong command of his fastball, and he typically made Indians hitters look silly with his change-up. It was duly noted by Cleveland manager Terry Francona.

“He had everything working,” he said. “It’s hard to get a bead on him. He commands his fast ball, he spins a breaking ball, he throws a change-up often. He locates all of them.

“That’s tough.”

Manager Lloyd McClendon was asked who in his playing experience he compares to Hernandez. After a pause, he came up with a good answer: A combination of Dwight Gooden and Greg Maddux.

“Good command, big hook, change-up and 94-95 mph fastball,” he said. “I don’t have the adjectives to explain him, other than he’s unbelievable.”

Hernandez and Cano are doing about all they can to deliver on their contracts. Now it’s up to Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik to deliver on his commitment to win this season.

Notes

Hernandez’s nine strikeouts gave him 1,840, surpassing Indians Hall of Famer Bob Feller for the sixth-most strikeouts in a career before the 29th birthday. He won’t be 29 until April 8 . . . He has allowed only one run to the Indians in their last 31 innings at Safeco . . . It was the fourth time he has pitched at least eight innings and allowed one or fewer hits . . . The back-to-back one-hitters at Safeco was the first time that’s happened in the American League since 1996 in Detroit’s Tiger Stadium. Ken Hill of the Rangers did it to the Tigers May 3 and teammate Roger Pavlik followed May 4. The National League saw the feat last season, when Gio Gonzales and Rafael Soriano of the Nationals did it at Nationals Park April 25 to the Reds, who responded with Jordan Zimmerman the next day . . .  In their last 20 series, the Mariners have won 12, lost five and tied four.


YourThoughts

  • tedsfrozenhead

    It’s hard to trust Uncle Fester to bring in anyone who is not coming off an injury or had his best season a couple years or more back. He did well to get Cano here but he will likely give away more than he has to in a panic to keep his job. Hope is his philosophy but it is no way to run a team…

    • art thiel

      Little in his trade record gives fans confidence (Josh Leuke?). But that can’t change the need to import help this summer for the offense. Fear of failure is worse than failure.

      • Steven

        Not sure that you can say his trade record is a total bust. While Pineda for Montero remains the trade that nobody wants to win, and Jaso for Morse, Fister for Furbush, & Cliff Lee for Smoak, Beaven and Leuke look bad in hindsight, you also have to look at his initial move flipping Putz for Guti, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp and Jason Vargas, the flipping of Leuke for John Jaso, or the trade that gave us Cliff Lee for virtually nothing.
        Even in his bad trades, there’s still nothing on the level of Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo for one year of a DH platoon, or the Erik Bedard trade.

        • art thiel

          Didn’t know Jack had a son named Steven.

          More seriously, your list of busts is a bit heavy, yes? No GM gets them all right, but in his sixth year, Z has had opportunity to fix the previous errors but did not dig out. And he hasn’t dug out yet, despite the current hotness. Remember, the 2011 M’s were 43-43 on July 5, then lost 17 in a row. Just sayin’.

          • SUDS

            “Remember, the 2011 M’s were 43-43 on July 5, then lost 17 in a row.”
            And that’s what keeps me from climbing fully onboard the M’s ride so far. With the tenuous hitting, I can’t see them staying the race beyond mid-August. Do I hope I’m dead wrong? Yes, I want them to be in this to the finish. It’s bee terrific so far, but they just don’t have the ponies to get them across the line.

          • Steven

            True, and Jack probably avoided having a true disaster of trade only through the protests of Justin Upton last year. But I want to have faith that he should be able to find an upgrade for Ackley or Young without selling out the farm.

            But the Mariners this year have done something they haven’t done in a long time. They’ve entered July with a better record than any team in the AL East.

  • Big

    Deja Vu or is it voodoo? We all know the history of we could have been a contender. Let’s pray to the Baseball Gods to simile on the M’s this year.

    • art thiel

      Fans have suffered through the history; players haven’t. Felix is the only long-timer who knows the trauma, and it sure doesn’t affect him.

      • Big

        Good and true comment. A bat could boost team confidence. Gees, we are talking about the mythical bat, the holy bat, the unicorn of bats, the M’s missing link?

  • T.O. (the good one)

    For some reason I like Erasmo Ramirez. Am I crazy? He seems to be a fighter and he is still a starter. I would hate to see him traded but I’m guessing he’ll go to another team real soon as part of this quest for the mythical ‘bat’.

    • art thiel

      He’s hardly terrible, but he has occasional trouble commanding his pitches in the zone. Lloyd hates occasional.

      • T.O. (the good one)

        Yes, that is perfect. Erasmo Ramirez is hardly terrible. I wish I would have thought of that.

  • Da Kid

    I don’t recall anything regarding a Zduriencik “commitment to win this season.” What I recall from the F.O. is a perennial commitment to be “competitive,” defined as playing well enough to put butts in the seats, then distracting fans from the equally perennial mediocre play on the field with a big screen TV and lots of hydroplane races.

    Zduriencik has gotten boned on virtually every trade. There’s no reason to think he’s any more capable of making a good one now than he was six months ago. The brilliance of Felix and Cano was expected and mightily paid for. If the M’s are going to get any serious help for those two, Lincoln will have to open his big fat wallet again, instead of sitting on it.

    • art thiel

      The argument he made to Lincoln to induce him to go nuts on payroll was that Cano was the one guy who would make the offense a winner. Beyond 82-80, he didn’t define what winning meant. But it’s the only argument he COULD have made.

      His egregious trade record speak for itself. Thanks to the revs from Root, money can be no object. And as a blind squirrel, he’s overdue.

  • Robert Brant

    Who do we give up to get a bat? Any team we try to trade with is going to want one of our pitching prospects. I think it would be foolish to give up a Paxton or a Walker for a rent a bat. I want the Ms to win as much as the next guy but I don’t want to see the front office give away our long term future just to win now. We’ve been down that road and it wasn’t a fun ride.