By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Surely with the return of Felix Hernandez to the mound and a game against a San Diego Padres’ offense so anemic it makes their own look like a juggernaut, the Seattle Mariners would easily roll to victory Tuesday night.
Well, maybe not so much.
The Mariners’ ace looked strong but not sharp in his return from a stiff lower back, giving up five runs on nine hits. Meanwhile, the Mariners’ last-ditch effort in the ninth inning came up just short in a 5-4 loss to their “natural” interleague rival.
“We had 12 or 13 hits; we didn’t score as much as we’d like to,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “We put up some good at-bats. We just weren’t as timely as I’d like.”
Down 5-1 in the bottom of the ninth, the Mariners got a solo home run from Michael Saunders and then scored two more runs — on an RBI single from pinch-hitter Munenori Kawasaki and a wild pitch from Padres closer Huston Street.
But with the tying run on second and two outs, Jesus Montero grounded out to end the comeback hopes.
“It was nice to see these guys fight like that and put themselves in position to tie the game, or ultimately win the ballgame,” Wedge said.
The game was lost in the early innings, with Felix yielding five runs to the light-hitting Padres.
San Diego came into the game with one of the worst offenses in the National League. The Padres ranked second to last in the NL in runs per game (3.36), batting average (.229) and on-base percentage (.304) and was tied with the Pirates for last in slugging (.358) and home runs (34).
So how exactly did they score five runs off a former American League Cy Young award winner? Well, Hernandez helped a little.
He just wasn’t very sharp with his command. It was evident with a first-inning walk and a hit batter. In the third inning, a leadoff walk to No. 9 hitter Everth Cabrera came back to bite him. Cabrera stole second and scored on Chase Headley’s bloop single to left.
Hernandez gave up a leadoff triple in the fourth to Chris Denorfia, but managed to leave him stranded, showing some of his vintage pitching.
The Mariners tied it in the bottom of the fourth. Ichiro Suzuki led off with a single and scored on Kyle Seager’s fielder’s choice.
The one run of support and tied score seemed to momentarily energize Hernandez. With his pitch count escalating rapidly, he was able to retire the Padres in order in the fifth on three fly-ball outs, needing only 10 pitches.
But things fell apart in the sixth inning. Hernandez hit Carlos Quentin for the second time in the game to start the inning. Hernandez then got the slugging Yonder Alonso to pop up to shallow left. However, Chone Figgins got a late break, forcing shortstop Brendan Ryan to try for an over-the-shoulder catch.
He could not make it.
Hernandez got Chris Denorfia to ground out to third, but Seager couldn’t turn the double play.
The Padres got back-to-back RBI singles from Cameron Maybin and Nick Hundley to push the lead to 3-1. Hernandez uncorked a wild pitch to score Maybin, and Cabrera tripled home Hundley.
When Hernandez finally ended the inning — with a little help from Miguel Olivo picking off Cabrera at third — the Mariners were down 5-1 and basically done.
“I felt like we were sluggish defensively,” Wedge said. “We didn’t give Felix any help that inning. I was disappointed.”
Hernandez was just as disappointed with his performance. He felt good physically. He just didn’t like the results, particularly allowing the leadoff hitter to reach base in five of the six innings he pitched.
“Disappointing,” he said. “I’m tired of pitching like this. I have to do something about this. I’ve got to pitch better. I feel like I can do more than I did today.”
Seattle put plenty of runners on base against Padres starter Clayton Richard, who pitched seven innings, giving up eight hits and walking a batter. But the Mariners never got the meaningful hit against him.
To make matters worse, hard-throwing Mariners rookie reliever Stephen Pryor was injured covering first base in the ninth inning. Pryor hustled to the bag and came up limping, grabbing the groin area. He left the game immediately.
In the search for positives, Saunders continued to flourish. The lefty went 3-for-4, with all three hits coming off left-handed pitchers. Saunders had a single and double off Richards. In the ninth, facing lefty reliever Joe Thatcher, Saunders launched a solo homer to center.
After the game, Wedge said that Pryor strained his groin and will have an MRI today. He also said they will make a series of roster moves. Those moves will likely include outfielder Mike Carp (shoulder) and Pryor being sent to the disabled list. Franklin Gutierrez will likely be activated off the disabled list.
Blake Beavan and Alex Liddi will be sent to Class AAA Tacoma, with Erasmo Ramirez being recalled and likely starting Thursday.