By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
CHICAGO — The personal milestones for Felix Hernandez will have to wait for his next start. The chance for his 100th career win and his 1,500th career strikeout were blown away on a day when 25 to 30 miles per hour gusts turned U.S. Cellular Field into a wind tunnel.
On a day when his stuff was good and his command was not, Hernandez still made only one truly bad pitch and it cost him in a 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Saturday afternoon.
“Just one mistake,” he said.
That mistake came in the sixth inning of a 1-1 game. Hernandez gave up a leadoff single to Alejandra De Aza to start the inning. After getting DeWayne Wise to fly out to left, Hernandez seemed well on his way to a second out, throwing two quick strikes to Alex Rios. Instead of a strikeout, Hernandez hung a changeup which Rios launched into the left-field seats for a two-run homer.
“It was supposed to be down and in,” Hernandez said. “It left my hand, and I said this one is going to be up.”
Hernandez would be charged with another run in the seventh inning. He loaded the bases before getting an out. At 109 pitches, he was lifted for Charlie Furbush, who gave up a sacrifice fly to De Aza.
Hernandez pitched 61⁄3 innings, giving up the four runs on six hits with two walks and three strikeouts. In his last two starts, on Chicago’s south side, he’s 0-2 with a 6.50 earned run average.
“The command was just not there,” he said, refusing to blame it on the windy conditions. “When I don’t have my command, it’s tough to pitch.”
He sits at 99 career wins and 1,497 career strikeouts. With his 27th birthday on Monday, it means he won’t be joining Bert Blyleven, Walter Johnson and Dwight Gooden as pitchers who reached 100 wins and 1,500 strikeouts before the age of 27.
The Mariners didn’t give Hernandez a lot of run support in his bid for his 100th win, which was typical of most of the starts it took to get the first 99 victories.
Seattle (3-3) grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second inning as Raul Ibanez got his first hit of the season — a one-out double to right-center. He would score on Dustin Ackley’s hard ground ball to first which was ruled an error.
But the Mariners failed to add to the lead, despite chances in the fifth and sixth inning. Justin Smoak led off the fifth with a single and Ackley drew a walk. But Kelly Shoppach failed to get a sacrifice bunt down and Brendan Ryan grounded into a double play to end the inning.
In the sixth, the Mariners had runners on first and second with two out and Ibanez coming to the plate. Chicago manager Robin Ventura brought in left-hander Donnie Veal to face Ibanez.
Wedge kept Ibanez in the game and Veal struck him out on a nasty 3-2 curveball.
Did Wedge consider bringing in Jason Bay, Jesus Montero or Franklin Gutierrez — all right-handed hitters on the bench at that time — to pinch hit for Ibanez?
“Not at that time for the exact reason that he comes around again later with a chance against a right-hander and you feel pretty confident it would come back around that way,” Wedge said. “It’s early in the season and you want to give these guys an opportunity. Raul has obviously been a clutch hitter throughout his career.”
To Veal’s credit, he didn’t give much for Ibanez to work with.
“He painted a 2-0 fastball away on the outside corner, after two good sliders — not a pitch I want to hit,” Ibanez said. “We got to 3-1 and he dropped a really good breaking ball on me. And obviously, in a 3-1 count you aren’t looking for that. Once he was able to throw that for a strike, I had to be prepared to hit it. And then he made a good pitch.”
Ibanez would have his chance at redemption again in the eighth inning. Michael Saunders gave the Mariners some life by ripping a two-run opposite field homer to left off of hard-throwing left-hander and one-time Mariner Matt Thornton.
“I knew I hit it hard, but I didn’t know what the wind was doing today,” he said. “I knew I barreled it up and kept it low. I don’t know if the wind helped it or not.”
Down 4-3, the Mariners had some life. Kendrys Morales singled up the middle with one out off of Thornton, who was lifted after the at-bat for right-hander Jesse Crain. Michael Morse drew a walk, bringing Ibanez to the plate.
Crain got ahead 1-2 and blew an elevated fastball out of the strike zone past a swinging Ibanez.
“I chased that one,” Ibanez said.
Ibanez took all the blame for the failure to produce, when asked about all the missed chances by the team as a whole.
“I left a couple of chances out there,” Ibanez said. “I didn’t get it done. I’ve got to be better than that.”
There were still only two outs after Ibanez’s strikeout, but Smoak’s sharp grounder to first was gloved to end the inning.
“Every single game we’ve played this year we’ve had runners on base, we were just missing that timely hit in the gap or whatever it may be today,” Saunders said. “We fought hard. We were in the game the entire way through. We got down 4-1 and came back and gave ourselves an opportunity. If we continue to do that over the course of the season, we are going to win a lot of ballgames.”