Nelson Cruz’s bat and Felix Hernandez’s arm proved a good combination again, as the Mariners beat Oakland 8-2 Wednesday afternoon at Safeco (box score) to earn their first series win in two weeks. Thanks to a pair of RBI singles and Cruz’s 39th home run of the season, and a quality start from Hernandez, Seattle has a chance to win three games in a row for only the second time since late May.
Hernandez has been known to get rattled when things don’t go his way, as evidenced by three of his worst career outings this season. So when he bounced back from a leadoff home run to get out of the first inning with only the one hit, it injected the 29-year-old starter with the confidence he needed. It helped that the Mariners had six hits for four runs in the first. Hernandez allowed three hits and two runs over eight innings. It marked his 85th career start of at least eight innings and two runs or fewer.
Hernandez was coming off back-to-back losses, so there was an audible moan when leadoff hitter Billy Burns took him deep for a solo home run on the first pitch. But he didn’t allow another hit until the fifth inning. Oakland didn’t score another run until the seventh. At a time when the revamped bullpen needed a day of rest, King Felix’s three-hitter provided the answer.
Considering that the Mariners had six hits, the most they’ve had in an inning this season, before Oakland starter Chris Bassitt got the second out of the first inning, the offense was in good form. Cruz (3 for 4, three RBIs) continues to put together what would be, on almost any other team, an MVP campaign.
Rookie Ketel Marte wrapped up an impressive homestand (.458) with another two-hit campaign. The Mariners had 10 hits while going over the five-run mark for the fourth consecutive game. Even 3B Kyle Seager, hitless in 14 consecutive at-bats and 1-for-26 for the homestand, got into the action with a solo homer in the eighth.
“He’s having an MVP type of year, no question about it. He’s been a force in the middle of our lineup this year.” – manager Lloyd McClendon, after Cruz hit his 39th home run
The Mariners are shaking up their rotation over the next week, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. LHP Roenis Elias will replace LHP Vidal Nuno as Thursday’s starter at Chicago, while the Sunday spot, set to go to LHP Mike Montgomery, is now TBA. Montgomery has really struggled in recent weeks, with the low point coming during a 1.1-inning start Tuesday night. Nuno will work in the bullpen for now, but it’s not out of the question that he’ll be the starter Sunday . . . Cruz needs one more home run to match his career-high total of 40, set last season with the Orioles. The last time a Mariner hit 40 home runs in a season was Alex Rodriguez (insert your own PED asterisk), who hit 41 in 2000.
Elias has had trouble following up his early rookie success in 2014. He struggled down the stretch last season and has spent a good part of this season in Tacoma, where he hasn’t been effective either. But Elias (4-6, 4.22 ERA) is back in the rotation, with a scheduled Thursday start in Chicago against the White Sox. Chicago probable starter Carlos Rodon (5-5, 4.22 ERA) was effective against the Mariners Saturday but did not factor in the decision of a game that went 10 innings.