By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
CLEVELAND — Over the course of a baseball season, a team will suffer through a few lackluster, lifeless, stinker-type losses. It’s a product of playing 162 games.
Having one of those dead-pulse defeats when Felix Hernandez is on the mound seems implausible. But it happened on Sunday.
The Seattle Mariners’ ace was anything but sharp, the defense behind him was worse and the hitting was non-existent as Seattle slogged its way through a 6-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.
It was the Mariners’ third straight loss against the Indians in as many days. They will now try to avoid suffering a four-game sweep today in the final game of the series with Hisashi Iwakuma on the mound.
“You are going to have games like that,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It was just one of those days — one of those days for Felix, one of those days for us. We have one more game here and we have to be focused like we have been and snatch this last one and head to Anaheim.”
To his credit, Hernandez hasn’t had “one of those days” often this season. Coming in into the game, he was 4-0 with a 0.82 ERA in his past six starts.
But from the very first pitch of the game, he was fighting to find command and location of his pitches. He made it through just five innings, allowing six runs (five earned) on eight hits with two walks and eight strikeouts. It was the shortest outing of the season for Hernandez, who had gone at least six innings in every start.
“He was a little bit off today, and they did a good job against him,” Wedge said. “They did a good job of laying off some tough pitches, they hit some tough pitches. A few mistakes, they didn’t miss. You have to give them credit. They are a good-hitting ballclub over there.”
Hernandez wasn’t quite as effusive with his praise.
“They have a pretty good lineup, but if you make good pitches, you can get them out,” he said.
After leaving his last start early with back pain, Hernandez wouldn’t use it as an excuse in this one.
“I was fine,” he said. “I felt good.”
But good health didn’t mean success.
“It was a weird game,” he said. “I felt good, but I missed with a couple pitches, missed my location. It’s tough.”
His defense didn’t do him any favors.
Michael Bourn led off the game with a soft single to right-center. He used his blazing speed to stretch a single into a double as right fielder Michael Morse was slow to field the ball. Bourn later scored on Michael Brantley’s single to right. Morse came up and field the ball and fired home, missing the cutoff man, allowing Brantley to move to second. That extra base would prove costly as Justin Smoak couldn’t field Nick Swisher’s groundball to first, letting it get through his legs and allowing Brantley to score from second. It was Smoak’s first error of the season.
“We were a little sloppy in that first inning,” Wedge said.
The second inning basically ended the Mariners’ hopes. Hernandez got two groundball outs, but couldn’t close out the inning. Bourn reached on an infield single and Jason Kipnis followed with a single up the middle. Hernandez threw a 0-1 sinker to Brantley that stayed over the middle of plate. Brantley didn’t miss it, crushing it over the wall in right-center for a three-run homer.
Up 5-0, Cleveland tacked on another run in the fourth off Hernandez. Mike Aviles led off with a double and scored from second on Drew Stubbs swinging bunt. Both Hernandez and Jesus Montero charged the slow roller in between the mound and the first base line. Montero picked it up and fired to first for the out. Aviles, seeing that Hernandez didn’t retreat to cover home as Montero made the play, sprinted for home and scored.
“It was kind of a fluke play,” Wedge said. “It’s a swinging bunt and they are both going after the ball. He (Aviles) didn’t cut stride. He just kept on going. That’s just kind of the way today went.”
Hernandez fought his way through the fifth, striking out the side after the first two runners reached base.
“I was like ‘no more,’ they can’t score here,’” Hernandez said.
Even if Hernandez had been his usual stellar self, there is no guarantee the Mariners would have won the game. Seattle did nothing against Cleveland starter Justin Masterson. The lanky, side-arm slinging right-hander dominated hitters, pitching seven scoreless innings, giving up just three hits while striking out 11 and walking two.
“Masterson was really good today, he really was,” Wedge said. “He had the ball moving all over the place. He was good against the right-handers and the left-handers. He didn’t get into any patterns. He was adding and subtracting with his velocity. He had it all working today.”
Masterson improved to 7-2 on the season and lowered his earned run average to 2.83. He’s thrown 19 straight scoreless innings. He was the fifth starting pitcher to strike out 10 or Mariners in a start this season.
“He has that power sinker and he’s throwing it in the mid 90s — that’s a tough combination especially when he can flip that slider in there for a strike,” said Kyle Seager, who had one of the three hits. “You have to try to get him in the middle of the plate and up in the zone, but as much as his ball moves, it’s easier said than done.”
Seattle managed just four hits in the game and only had two runners make it to third base.
Cleveland has now won 10 of its past 14 games. Hernandez becomes the seventh former Cy Young Award winner that the Indians have beaten this season. The others were R.A. Dickey (NL 2012), David Price (AL 2012), Jake Peavy (NL 2007), Roy Halladay (AL 2003, NL 2010), Cliff Lee (AL 2008), Bartolo Colon (AL 2005) and Justin Verlander (AL 2011).