SEATTLE — Even in the middle of his best outing this season and coming within one out of his first complete game since August 2012, Felix Hernandez took notice of the stadium radar gun flashing numbers in the mid-90s when his fastball cracked the glove.
“I’ve still got it,” Seattle’s ace said with a sly grin.
Riding that fastball carrying a little more zip, Hernandez took a shutout bid into the ninth inning as the Mariners beat the Los Angeles Angels 3-1 on Wednesday night.
On the verge of a brilliant shutout and first complete game since Aug. 27, 2012 against Minnesota, Hernandez couldn’t get the 27th out. He gave up a two-out single to Mike Trout and an RBI double to Albert Pujols that took away the shutout and the complete game and caused Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon to turn to his closer.
Still, the effort by Hernandez (7-1) continued a dominant run. He won his fourth consecutive start and became the seventh pitcher in Mariners history with seven victories before June 1.
In those last four starts, Hernandez has allowed eight earned runs in 31 1-3 innings with 30 strikeouts. He now has a 57-7 record in his career when pitching at least eight innings.
“I think we’re all getting accustomed to how he’s been throwing. He’s just coming out and establishing the fastball early and going to his off speed pitches when he needs to,” Seattle catcher Mike Zunino said.
Providing the offense behind Hernandez’s gem was Zunino, who homered and drove in all of Seattle’s runs. He gave the Mariners the lead with a two-out, two-run single in the second and led off the eighth with a home run off C.J. Wilson (6-4).
Wilson was nearly the equal of Hernandez. Also trying to get his seventh win, Wilson allowed just five hits and struck out five before getting lifted with two outs in the eighth.
Five of Zunino’s seven homers this season have come in Hernandez starts. But he was more pleased with the single in the second inning that scored Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager.
“When you can do that with two outs and put the team on the board early and see some pitches, that was the biggest thing for me and gave you confidence as the game went on,” Zunino said.
Hernandez cruised through the eighth, still hitting the mid-90s mph on the stadium radar gun and closed the inning striking out Hank Conger. There was very little discussion with McClendon and Hernandez jogged from the dugout to start the ninth to a big ovation having allowed just two hits.
He struck out Collin Cowgill swinging and retired Howie Kendrick on a fly ball. But Trout and Pujols wouldn’t let Hernandez finish it off. He struck out nine and walked two.
Closer Fernando Rodney entered and got David Freese to line out for his 13th save of the season.
“He was strong. He felt great. It’s just tough there, you have to weigh the players but also what is good for the team,” McClendon said. “I had my closer up and he was ready to go so we thought it was the best matchup.”
Hernandez struck out five of the first nine batters by changing up his game plan. He relied more on his fastball early and went to off speed pitches later in the game. Kendrick ended any thoughts of another special night from Hernandez with a solid single leading off the fourth. Trout then walked, but Hernandez skirted the jam thanks to Zunino throwing out Kendrick trying to steal third and Freese’s strikeout.
The only other hit before the ninth was Erick Aybar’s single in the fifth.
“We really didn’t get a chance to pressure him much and the couple of times we did we couldn’t get the runs across,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
NOTES: Matt Shoemaker will start Thursday’s series finale for the Angels. He was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake after LHP Sean Burnett tore a ligament in his pitching elbow in Tuesday’s game. LHP Wade LeBlanc, the original starter, will now work out of the bullpen. … Seattle RHP Taijuan Walker (shoulder) made his first rehab start at Triple-A Tacoma on Wednesday night and threw three innings, giving up five hits, four earned runs and striking out three. He threw 61 pitches.