By John Boyle Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Felix Hernandez took to the mound Thursday in front of an appreciative, yellow-clad crowd which hoped to celebrate the 100th career victory of the Seattle Mariners’ ace.
The visiting Texas Rangers, however, were far less welcoming of Hernandez in his first home start since signing a big contract extension in the offseason. The Rangers piled up 10 hits against Hernandez to win 4-3 and deny him his victory milestone for the second consecutive start.
To make matters worse, the Mariners not only lost the game, but also their most productive hitter when Michael Morse was hit by a pitch on the hand in the seventh inning. Mariners manager Eric Wedge described the injury as a “not too serious” small fracture that will only keep Morse out three to seven days. As a result, Morse will not go on the disabled list, Wedge said.
Morse hopes to be back even faster than Wedge’s estimation, especially since the Mariners just put outfielder Michael Saunders on the disabled list with a shoulder injury Thursday.
“I’m hoping by Sunday,” Morse said. “I want to get in there. We’ve already got Saunders missing a while, so I’m going to rehab this as best as I can real quick, and I might have to play through some pain.”
As for Hernandez, he was better than in his last start in which he gave up four earned runs in 61⁄3 innings. However, it was not enough on a night when the Mariners couldn’t string together the hits needed to produce a big inning.
“I thought he was sharper today than he was in his last outing,” Wedge said. “I thought he had better stuff. There were a couple pitches he left up that they got to, but I thought overall he was better than his last outing.”
Things started off pretty well for the Mariners. Hernandez struck out two in the top half of the first, giving him 1,500 in his career. Then Franklin Gutierrez led off the bottom of the first with his fourth home run of the season, but little else went Seattle’s way the rest of the night.
Hernandez was hardly a disaster, but he was not his usual dominant self either. A.J. Pierzynski homered in the second off a pitch Hernandez described a fastball “right in the middle of the plate.” Then after a Raul Ibanez error and a Leonys Martin single, Elvis Andrus singled to give Texas a 2-1 lead.
“I had pretty good stuff, just made a couple of mistakes,” Hernandez said, “… It was not a struggle, just missing a little bit. I was trying to make good pitches, and I was a little bit off.”
Seattle tied the score in the second when Gutierrez drove in his second run in as many innings, this time on a fielder’s choice. but the Mariners bats were mostly silent until late. Yes, the Mariners did get their first two batters on base in the third, but went down in order after that, then went hitless until the seventh inning.
“We’ve got to be more consistent offensively and do a better job making adjustment in-game,” Wedge said. “What we’ve seen is there have been certain trends against us at certain points in time, and we haven’t made adjustments. We need to do a better job of that.”
Hernandez was touched up for two more runs in the fifth, but he was able to battle through 62⁄3 innings. Seattle needed that since it had taxed its bullpen the past two nights.
“We needed that obviously,” Wedge said. “We took him as long as we could take him, then Oliver (Perez) came in and did a nice job and so did Pryor. We had opportunities to come back.”
The Mariners tried to get a two-out rally going seventh, but after Kyle Seager singled, Kendrys Morales walked and Morse was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Ibanez struck out.
Seattle got one back in the eighth when Justin Smoak led off the inning with a bloop single, went to third on a Jesus Montero bloop double, then scored on a Robert Andino groundout.
The Mariners tried to get the tying run home on a Brendan Ryan squeeze bunt, but Endy Chavez, who was pinch running for Montero, was called out at home. Replays showed Chavez appeared to get his foot in ahead of the tag, though it’s unclear if his foot hit home plate or was blocked by Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
“It was a close play,” said Wedge, who briefly left the dugout to argue the call. “Ryan got the bunt down good, but right back to the pitcher is the only shot they have to make a play, and that’s what they did. It just looks like he caught his foot on the catcher’s foot or the shin guard, and that’s how they got him.”
The loss was the Mariners’ third in a row and seventh in nine games since a 2-0 start, but players say nobody is getting down this early in the season.
“We’re going to keep fighting, keep grinding, keep battling,” Ibanez said. “We fought hard, we’ll keep our heads up and keep battling. In this game no one’s going to feel sorry for you and we’re definitely not going to feel sorry for ourselves. We’re going to keep fighting.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.