A crowd of 35,616 witnessed an historic Felix Hernandez outing at Safeco Field Friday night, only it wasn’t the sort of history Mariners fans were interested in. During an 8-3 loss to the National League East-leading Washington Nationals, Hernandez surrendered four long balls for the first time in his 10-year career.
The Nationals deposited six gopher balls into the cheaper seats and sent Seattle to consecutive losses for the first time in more than a month. In extending their winning streak against the Mariners to 10 games, longest current by one team vs. another, the Nationals dropped the M’s a game behind the Tigers for the American League’s second wild card with 29 to play.
“Felix is human,” Mariners bench coach and acting manager Trent Jewett said. “We ask a lot of him, expect a lot out of him. I think he’s up to the challenge, but he’s human. The other team is getting paid, too.”
More concerning for Seattle (72-61) at the moment is the work of its starters. Excluding Paxton’s 6.2 shutout innings Tuesday, the starting staff has gone 0-4 with a 9.23 ERA in seven games since Aug. 20. A stark contrast to the sub-2.00 ERA it pitched to through the first 13 games of the month.
Hernandez was pitching on a full week’s rest after being pushed back from his scheduled Wednesday start. He was not sharp from the outset.
In the first inning, Anthony Rendon hammered the first pitch he saw from Hernandez over the fence in center field. With a 2-1 lead in the third, Hernandez watched Washington slug a second home run, this time a two-run shot from Jayson Werth, who fished out a ball below his knees.
It got ugly in the fourth as Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos hit solo home runs to put Washington ahead 5-2. Ramos hit a second homer, his ninth of the season, in the eighth inning off reliever Joe Beimel as he and Bryce Harper went back-to-back. Up 7-2, Washington coasted to its first victory in five days. The Nationals improved to a ridiculous 64-8 when scoring four-plus runs.
Hernandez settled down after the fourth to complete seven innings. In giving up five runs on 10 hits and a walk, Hernandez fell to 13-5 and saw his ERA balloon to 2.23, up 16 points from 2.07. He struck out one hitter on 103 pitches.
Was it too much rest for Hernandez? A fair question even if The King himself would not admit to its influence.
“Not at all,” Hernandez said. “It was not the case. Like I said, I was in the middle of the plate. You’re going to get hit if you’re in the middle.”
In 13 starts with at least five days of rest, Hernandez was 7-0 with a 1.77 ERA over 91.2 innings. But Hernandez has been good even on normal rest, as evidenced by a 2.36 ERA in 14 starts. In fact, in the past Hernandez often complained about feeling too strong, which affected his feel on off-speed offerings. Friday he was up in the zone with everything, including his devastating changeup that has been a go-to pitch.
Could Seattle’s ace be ailing? He shrugged that notion off as well.
“I’m healthy, I’m good,” Hernandez said. “If you don’t have good command of your fastball, you’re going to get hit.”
The Mariners scored two runs in the first inning to reclaim the lead after Rendon’s home run. Dustin Ackley tripled off the wall in center, then scored on a single by Kendrys Morales. Robinson Cano, who walked, scored on a single from Kyle Seager, who missed a three-run homer down the right-field line by maybe a foot a couple pitches earlier in the at-bat.
Morales, Cano and Ackley each had two hits, although only one went for extra bases. It has to be an encouraging sign for Seattle to see Morales post another multi-hit game. It was his sixth in his last 14 appearances.
On the other end, Washington (76-57) slugged the ball all over the yard. It came in with 116 homers, fifth in the National League. Rendon, the 2011 third overall pick whom many experts thought Seattle would select instead of Danny Hultzen, finished 4-for-4 with a walk and two runs scored, a triple shy of the cycle.
After going 8-1 in its previous homestand, Seattle is 1-3 through four games of a six-game homestand this week.
Hernandez is 0-2 with a 5.23 ERA in his last three outings. Jewett addressed the elephant in the room before he was prompted.
“I think Lloyd did it for a long-term move, not just for Felix, but everybody,” said Jewett speaking to delaying Hernandez’s start two days. “We’ll see the benefits from it in the days to come.”
The Mariners hope it will still matter then.
OF Michael Saunders worked out with the team Friday, hitting in the cage and playing catch prior to the game. Saunders contracted a virus from his newborn daughter while on paternity leave, causing him to lose 12 pounds over the last week. He will continue to work out as he recovers strength before beginning a new rehab assignment in Arizona . . . Seattle recalled OF James Jones prior to Friday’s game and optioned RHP Erasmo Ramirez to Class AAA Tacoma . . . Austin Jackson extended his hitting streak to nine games with a ninth-inning single . . . Seattle lost consecutive games for first time since four-game skid from July 22-25.