By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
OAKLAND, Calif. — Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez didn’t have a single strikeout Wednesday while facing 31 batters over 61/3 innings in the first game of a doubleheader against Oakland.
“I’m in shock right now,” he said after the Mariners pulled out a 6-4 victory in 10 innings. “It doesn’t bother me, but it shocks me.”
It probably shocks everyone.
The last time it happened was Aug. 18, 2008 when he lasted just five innings in a 5-0 loss at Chicago. That was 181 starts ago.
“No strikeouts,” he said. “Not a good breaking ball. Not a good changeup. That’s what happens when you don’t have good stuff.”
Hernandez dismissed the suggestion his effort was a lingering effect from a recent bout with the flu. He lost nine pounds last week, and it definitely affected him in his previous start at Houston.
Not this time.
“I felt fine,” Hernandez insisted. “I just made a lot of mistakes. I was really in the middle of the plate, and they were able to hit it. No excuse. That was my fault. But we won the game. That’s the thing.”
Beating the shift
The conversation prior to Wednesday’s doubleheader concerned how a hitter should counter the increasing tendency by opponents to overshift their defensive alignments.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t mince words.
“This is what I told my players,” he said. “If you really think about it, when a team puts a shift on you, what the other manager is telling you is that you’re not good enough to go the other way.
“I just put it on (our players) and tell it like it is. Have a little more pride and take a better approach.”
McClendon acknowledged there are times when a club might employ a shift in hopes of inducing a power hitter to go the other way — i.e., willing to concede a single to someone like Prince Fielder to minimize his power.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We don’t have a Prince Fielder.”
So … anyone and everyone on the Mariners needs to adjust?
“I’m saying we don’t have a Prince Fielder,” McClendon repeated. “You’ve got to be able to hit the ball all over the place. Fielder has proven year after year after year that he can beat the shift.
“Because there’s no shift over the fence. We don’t have that guy yet.”
Ramirez heads back
Right-handed Erasmo Ramirez headed back to Class AAA Tacoma after absorbing a loss in the second game but convinced he’s on the right track in his quest to regain a spot in the big-league rotation.
“I showed today what I’ve been working on down there in Tacoma,” he said. “I feel good with how everything looked in the game. I just want to keep it like that. Attack the strike zone. Attack with every pitch.”
Ramirez got a one-day recall Wednesday under the 26th-man rule that permits clubs to add one player for doubleheaders. That player must be sent back to the minors after the game.
“He threw the ball good,” McClendon said. “He did a nice job.”
Ramirez allowed just two runs and six hits in six innings while striking out four and walking one. The A’s scored one run when a single fell between three players, but there was nothing tainted about their other run:
A no-doubt homer by Yoenis Cespedes.
“The pitch to Cespedes,” Ramirez said, “it was down in the zone, but he’s got pop. And he showed that.”
Ramirez opened the season in the rotation and made five starts before being sent to the minors with a 6.75 ERA.
“I totally understood what was happening,” he said. “I was lost. Everyone I talked to asked me why I looked different, what changed between spring training and right now? What was I doing?
“I (realized) I can’t be scared to throw strikes. That’s what I was working on in the minors — even if I get beat, throw strikes. That’s what I did (today), and that’s what I’m going to continue doing.”
In the clutch
First baseman Justin Smoak was already leading the majors in two-out RBIs before delivering the winning run in the opener with a two-out RBI single.
Smoak started the day with 16 two-out RBI — two ahead of White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu.
McClendon credits an improved approach.
“He understands the deficiencies in his swing, on both sides,” McClendon said, “and he’s willing to try to make adjustments. And he’s getting positive results.”
Smoak is also batting .35 (14-for-40) in the seventh inning or later with four doubles, four homers and 13 RBIs. He is also 8-for-14 with 13 RBI with two outs and runners in scoring position.
“When’s the last time we saw him hit a line drive inside the third-base line?” McClendon asked. “That’s from swing path. Making sure you stay inside the ball and not just try to do too much. He’s gotten a lot better.”
Smoak sliced a two-out RBI double past third base in the first inning Tuesday night. He also had two two-out RBI with a single in the ninth inning.
The A’s lost two players to injuries in the first game. Center fielder Coco Crisp suffered a strained neck when he slammed into the wall after catching Kyle Seager’s drive in the fourth inning. Reliever Ryan Cook suffered a strained forearm in the 10th on his final pitch in striking out Corey Hart. … The Mariners had lost the first game of their seven previous doubleheaders, dating to 2004. The doubleheader resulted from an April 4 postponement when the O.co Coliseum was deemed unplayable after the grounds crew left the field uncovered during an overnight rain storm. Mike Zunino’s homer in the fifth inning of the first game snapped an 0-for-11 skid.
It was 29 years ago today — May 8, 1985 — that Mike Moore carried a no-hitter into the ninth against the Brewers before failing to survive the inning and settling for a 4-2 victory in Milwaukee.
Moore lost his no-hitter when Robin Yount opened the ninth with a single. Moore retired the next two hitters before the Brewers bunched three straight singles for two runs.
Ed Nunez replaced Moore and loaded the bases with a walk before ending the game by retiring Jim Gantner on a grounder to second. Moore was the first pitcher in Mariners’ history to take a no-hitter into the ninth inning.
The Mariners open a seven-game homestand at 7:10 p.m. today with the first of four games against Kansas City at Safeco Field.
Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (1-0 with a 5.40 ERA) makes his second start since returning from a season-opening stay on the disabled list because of a strained ligament in his middle finger.
The Royals plan to start lefty Danny Duffy (1-2 and 2.19). Root Sports will carry the game.