SEATTLE — The King has returned to Seattle. For the first time in nearly four months, former Mariners ace Felix Hernandez took the mound at T-Mobile Park on Saturday night in a 7-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, and tossed one of his better outings in a season that seemed possibly lost when he was placed on the injured list in May.
In the final year of a contract the Mariners likely won’t revisit at season’s end, Hernandez, now 33 years old and on the down-slope of his MLB career, said earlier this week during a rehab appearance with Triple-A Tacoma it was important to him to pitch again in the ballpark he’s spent the past 15 years in.
“This is (probably) going to be my last year,” he said then. “I don’t know what’s going to happen next year. So, I’ve got to go out there and show them I still love the fans, and still love Seattle.”
Hernandez was officially reinstated from the 60-day IL ahead of his start Saturday — he last pitched in Boston in May, left after 2.1 innings, was eventually diagnosed with a Grade 1 lat strain, and also battled shoulder issues trying to make his way back to the mound — and appeared fired up for his return from the moment he started warming in the bullpen.
Hernandez didn’t pitch the best outing of his career — or even necessarily his best of this shortened season — but he worked into the sixth inning, and did enough to leave the game after 88 pitches (54 strikes) with a 5-2 lead.
He retired the first six batters he faced on just 16 pitches before allowing a pair of solo home runs to Teoscar Hernandez and Blue Jays rookie Bo Bichette in the third. He walked one batter and hit another before eventually getting out of the inning.
With his pitch count steadily climbing, he retired eight of the final 11 batters he faced, and didn’t allow another run, despite issuing each of his three walks after Toronto tied the score in the third at 2-2. He was pulled with two outs in the sixth after allowing a double to Randal Grichuck, but Mariners rookie Taylor Guilbeau came in and struck out Justin Smoak to end the scoring threat.
Hernandez shook manager Scott Servais’ hand as he handed the ball over, was given a standing ovation by both sets of fans as he walked back to the dugout, and waved just before descending down the stairs.
He worked the 5.2 innings, allowing two runs on three hits and three walks while striking out four.