SEATTLE — Felix Hernandez said the hype and attention paid to Texas star Yu Darvish had no bearing on his level of intensity heading into Monday night.
Seattle’s ace was too focused on making sure the best offensive team in baseball didn’t continue Hernandez’s unusual run of rough starts.
“Attack and just throw strikes,” Hernandez said. “If you get behind against this lineup, it’s a problem.”
Hernandez shut down Texas’ sluggers for eight innings, while Ichiro Suzuki and the Mariners bats were chasing Darvish after just four innings in the shortest start of the season in Seattle’s 4-1 win over the Rangers.
Seattle became the first team that Darvish had to face for a second time and for a second time he struggled to solve the Mariners. Darvish (6-2) labored through 96 pitches and a season-high six walks and was denied the chance to become the first seven-game winner in the majors.
Only Seattle’s inability to take advantage of a bases-loaded situation in the fourth inning kept Darvish’s line from being worse. Suzuki singled and tripled off his countryman, driving in a pair of runs as Seattle built on its three-game sweep of Colorado over the weekend.
“He can throw anything at any time, obviously has a good arm and keeps the ball down for the most part,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. “But you really have to tip your hat to our guys offensively. Our guys went up there, made him come into the zone and when he didn’t, took the passes when we could.”
While most of the attention went to Darvish and his impressive run of success, Hernandez was trying to atone for a pair of forgettable starts against the Yankees and Cleveland where Hernandez allowed a combined 21 hits and 10 earned runs.
He was back to his top form against the Rangers. Hernandez allowed six hits, struck out seven and walked two. He took a shutout into the eighth before Mitch Moreland hit a leadoff homer to deep right-center field. It marked the 15th straight game Texas hit at least one homer, but Hernandez finished off the inning, and his night with his second strikeout of slugger Josh Hamilton.
“How hot (Hamilton) is right now that was pretty good,” Hernandez said.
It helped Hernandez that he was playing with a lead and thanks in part to some lessons learned from the first time Seattle saw Darvish. Namely patience.
While Darvish was off to a solid start — subtract the five runs in the first two innings against the Mariners in his debut and his ERA since then is 1.94 — all of his starts were against teams seeing the Japanese star for the first time.
And Seattle had plenty of success — for two innings — when they saw Darvish for the first time back in April. The Mariners rattled Darvish for eight hits and five earned runs that day, but the Rangers gave Darvish enough offense to make that first start a victory.
This time, Seattle had nearly as much offensive success — trading hits for walks — but the Rangers bats were getting silenced by Hernandez.
Darvish’s troubles started almost immediately. He walked Michael Saunders with one out in the first and Suzuki immediately ripped a shot over first base and down the right field line. But instead of bouncing off the short-wall in foul territory and into the outfield, the ball hit and stayed at the base of the wall. Saunders scored from first and Suzuki strolled into third and an early lead for Hernandez.
Seattle gave Hernandez a bigger cushion in the third inning. With two runners on and one out, Suzuki sent a single into shallow center that scored Dustin Ackley from second. Saunders was aggressive and tried to go first to third on the hit, and instead jogged home when Hamilton’s throw from center soared over third baseman Adrian Beltre and into the Rangers’ dugout on the fly. Rookie Jesus Montero followed with a sacrifice fly to deep center that scored Suzuki.
Darvish continued to struggle in the fourth, walking the bases loaded to start the inning. Ackley’s RBI single scored John Jaso, but Darvish got infield groundouts by Saunders and Suzuki and a strikeout of Kyle Seager to end the inning and limit the damage. Montero added an RBI double in the seventh off reliever Yoshinori Tateyama, who was called up on Monday after Neftali Feliz was placed on the 15-day disabled list.
Darvish had pitched into at least the sixth inning of all eight of his previous starts.
“I was apologetic. I wasn’t able to go deep in the game as a starter should,” Darvish said through an interpreter. “Giving up those runs with only four hits; overall the approach and substance wasn’t that good.”
Notes: Texas’ streak of 15 straight games with a homer is the longest in baseball this year and fourth longest in franchise history. … With Feliz on the DL, the Rangers announced that Scott Feldman will start Wednesday’s series finale in Seattle. … Seattle C Miguel Olivo (groin) was 1-for-3 and caught five innings during his first rehab start with Triple-A Tacoma. Wedge said Olivo needs to catch a full nine innings before the Mariners consider bringing him back.