By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The stage was set for the losing to stop.
The Seattle Mariners had their streak-stopper on the mound in ace Felix Hernandez. Safeco Field was packed with 35,022 — the second largest crowd of the season. It was Hernandez’s “Perfect Game” bobblehead commemorating his special achievement last season. It was all in line for the Mariners to right what’s been so wrong over the last seven games.
But it didn’t happen.
Hernandez’s usual pin-point command came and went, the Mariners’ offense was, well, the Mariners’ offense and the losing streak is now eight games with a 5-2 loss to the Texas Rangers on Saturday night.
“I just felt like he was up and over the plate a little bit,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. “They made him work. He controlled damage for the most part and kept us in the ball game.”
It was a fight from the very start. Hernandez never worked a clean inning in his outing. He made it just 52⁄3 innings giving up five runs on a season-high 11 hits, while striking out nine and walking one.
“I wanted this one really, really bad,” he said. “There was a lot of people. It was a bobblehead night. I wanted to win this for the team and the fans.’
It was the second time in this stretch of futility that Hernandez had a chance to put a stop to it. And in both starts, he failed to make it six innings. It was just the second time since 2010 that Hernandez failed to go at least six innings in consecutive starts.
“The last couple of games he hasn’t been his typical self that’s for sure,” Wedge said. “But he has been his typical self by being the bulldog that he is and the way that he competes. He’s had a couple of tough ones, but his tough ones are better than most.”
That those two rough outings have come after Hernandez suffered a back tweak in New York isn’t a factor to him or the Mariners.
“Oh yeah, I feel fine, it’s not that,” he said. “It just can’t happen anymore. I have to go out there and do something about it.”
Hernandez’ lack of command was evident early. He gave up a pair of two-out hits in the first inning, and then surrendered his first run in the second as rookie Jurickson Profar punched an RBI single to right field. Texas tacked on two more on David Murphy’s two-run double to right.
“We just haven’t missed opportunities when he threw a ball in the strike zone,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “He’s at his best when he can get you to chase some pitches and then lock you up with the fastball. Tonight, he threw some balls across the plate, and we were fortunate enough to put them in play.”
Down 3-0, the Mariners victory hopes were pretty fading fast.
But Kendrys Morales provide Seattle with a brief optimistic respite in the bottom of the third. The big designated hitter got a fastball from Rangers starter Derek Holland, ripping a laser off the wall to score Jason Bay from second and Michael Morse from first, to cut the lead to 3-2.
The runs against Holland were rare in Seattle. It snapped a streak of 211⁄3 straight scoreless innings that Holland had pitched at Safeco Field, dating back to 2009.
But that was all the runs the Mariners would score, while the Rangers just kept on putting runners on base against Hernandez.
Nelson Cruz hit a solo homer to right field in the fifth inning to push the lead to 4-2. Texas chased Hernandez in the sixth. Leonys Martin came up with a two-out triple. Hernandez walked Elvis Andrus and was lifted for lefty Oliver Perez, who gave an RBI single to Murphy. The run was also charged to Hernandez.
After the Morales double, Holland settled in and allowed just one more hit — a single to Brendan Ryan — before leaving after 62⁄3 innings.
“I thought he was in control the whole night,” Washington said of Holland. “One mistake, the one he made to Morales with two strikes on him. He wanted to go higher in the strike zone, hopefully get him to chase again. But he got down in the area where (Morales) could put it in play. Other than that, he controlled the ball game.”
Seattle hitters managed just five hits and struck out 11 times. The Mariners also could be without first baseman Justin Smoak. Smoak suffered an oblique strain in the game and was replaced in the ninth inning. Wedge said Smoak will be re-evaluated today.
The Mariners will now turn to their second best pitcher — Hisashi Iwakuma — to try and stop the eight-game slide.
“This is where you gotta be tough,” Wedge said. “When you get in stretches like this, it’s tough to win a big ballgame. But you’ve got to come here and keep pounding, keep pounding and keep going.”