SAN DIEGO — It’s a story that has been written often over the span of his 15-year career with the Seattle Mariners. There were times when it defined an entire season, including the year he won the American League Cy Young Award.
The names have changed over the years, but the premise remains the same.
So, on a bright Wednesday afternoon at Petco Park, the story of the Mariners ruining and wasting an outstanding start from Felix Hernandez got to be told once again.
Remember, the ending is rarely a happy one.
Hernandez delivered his best start of the 2019 season and one of his best outings over the past three seasons. And it wasn’t enough because, well, the Mariners’ vaunted home-run bashing, pitch-count building, run-scoring offense was shut down by rookie Chris Paddack in a 1-0 loss to the Padres.
Hernandez was good, tossing seven innings and allowing one run on three hits with a walk and eight strikeouts. Paddack was better, working seven scoreless innings, allowing only one hit with a walk, a hit batter and nine strikeouts. With the eight strikeouts, Hernandez passed Don Drysdale on the career strikeout list. He now has 2,488 for his career.
“They like to swing early and they are aggressive,” Hernandez said. “I was just trying to pitch backwards. It was fun to pitch like that when you have good movement on your fastball and you are painting the corners.”
Over the past few seasons, there weren’t many occasions to rehash those old feelings of elation and frustration. Hernandez simply couldn’t deliver those sorts of outings on a consistent basis or even more than once every few months. Perhaps this is a one-off showing, but Seattle hopes for something more. He showed pinpoint command with his curveball and changeup, using them heavily and keeping his sinker as more of a secondary pitch.
“That’s probably the best outing I’ve seen from Felix Hernandez since I’ve been with the Mariners,” manager Scott Servais said. “I thought he was awesome. He followed the gameplan. He executed. He had a really good curveball today and got that going to his benefit. I feel bad we couldn’t extend the game or give him the win.”
Many a manager has said something similar following a Hernandez start, while many of his teammates have offered up apologies for lack of run support over the years. Even in 2019, they still sounded familiar if not completely the same.
“It stinks we couldn’t get him a win,” said Daniel Vogelbach. “He did everything and more for us to win this game and they pitched the ball really well and we couldn’t get a couple of big hits. It just wasn’t our day at the plate.”
It was the 130th time in his career Hernandez pitched seven-plus innings while allowing one run or fewer. It became the seventh time in those outings that he took the loss and the 27th time the Mariners lost the game in one of those outings. Of the 130, he has 89 wins and 34 no decisions to go with the seven losses.
And similar to all those starts where he didn’t win or get a decision, Hernandez wouldn’t blame the lack of run support. He credited Paddack.
“He did a pretty good job,” Hernandez said. “He was impressive.”
Hernandez’s one mistake came in the second. With two outs, he tried to sneak a first-pitch sinker by veteran infielder Ian Kinsler, who came into the game hitting .147 on the season with a sub-.500 OPS. Kinsler was sitting first-pitch fastball and pulled it over the wall in left field for his second home run.
“It was supposed to be low and away with a two-seamer,” Hernandez said. “It ran back over and he hit it pretty good.”
That one run is all the Padres and Paddack would need. With a mid-90s fastball and a nasty changeup, Paddack carved up Seattle hitters. He had them off balance and swinging at changeups when they thought fastballs were coming and watching fastballs in changeup counts.
“The changeup is really good and he tunnels his pitches really well,” Servais said. “The fastball and the changeup are identical coming out and the changeup is 10 miles (per hour) slower. The key to the changeup is he can throw it for a strike and he’s not afraid to throw two or three in a row. It’s really hard to lay off when it looks so much like his fastball. Hitters don’t see it. That’s why he’s really hard to hit. He’s one of the toughest guys in the league so far this year to get hits off of.”
Paddack has allowed 10 hits in five starts for an opponent batting average of .112 (10 for 89) on the season.
The Mariners best chance to score off of Paddack came in the first inning. Mitch Haniger led off with a walk and Domingo Santana singled with one out — Seattle’s only hit off of Paddack. But Omar Narvaez was fooled by a changeup and grounded out weakly back to the mound. With two outs, Tim Beckham was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Dee Gordon struck out swinging on a 0-2 changeup.
It’s the second time he’s done this to Seattle. In an exhibition game after the Tokyo trip at T-Mobile Park, Paddack was just as dominant.
“We had that chance to get him early,” Servais said. “He got on a good roll. We didn’t get much going against him.”