HOUSTON — Not the best of starts. For Felix Hernandez or the Mariners.
Hernandez lasted just five innings Monday night in the season opener against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park before exiting because of tightness in his groin.
Before he left, the King served up two booming homers in a 3-0 loss.
Actually, other than those blasts by George Springer in the first inning and Carlos Correa in the fourth, Hernandez pitched reasonably well. He struck out six, walked none and threw 45 of 65 pitches for strikes.
“One mistake,” Hernandez said. “The one to Springer. The other one was a good pitch. I’ve got to tip my hat to Correa. He put a good swing on it. That was a good pitch.”
While the King was solid, he didn’t come close to matching Houston lefty Dallas Keuchel, who flashed his 2015 Cy Young form in stifling the Mariners’ revamped lineup on two hits through seven innings.
“He located some pitches,” said left fielder Jarrod Dyson, who went hitless in three at-bats. “He made his pitches. He brought his ‘A’ game, and he hit his spots. When he hits his spots, it’s going to be a tough night.”
Luke Gregerson pitched out of a two-on jam with two outs in the eighth by retiring Robinson Cano on a line drive to right field. Ken Giles closed out the shutout for a save.
Hernandez suffered the groin injury after breaking late from the mound in the fourth inning on a grounder to first base. He came up limping after the play, which resulted in a visit from trainer Rick Griffin.
“Just a little tight,” Hernandez said. “It’s not bad. I think I’m going to be OK.”
Hernandez finished the inning and worked a one-two-three fifth before leaving the game.
“We just thought, where he was at there, it was time to get him out,” manager Scott Servais said. “He was throwing the ball great. He really had good stuff tonight. He made a couple of mistakes.”
The Astros then jumped reliever Nick Vincent for another run in the sixth inning. Bregman led off with a walk, went to second on Altuve’s single to left and scored on Correa’s sacrifice fly.
That was it.
Springer crushed Hernandez’s fourth pitch of the season, a 92-mph fastball, high over the Crawford Boxes atop the left-field scoreboard for a leadoff homer. The 389-foot drive was a homer from the time it left the bat.
“I was trying to go down and away,” Hernandez said, “and the ball came back to the middle of the plate.”
The Mariners mounted their only real threat against Keuchel in the fourth inning when Cano grounded a one-out single to right, and Nelson Cruz followed with a walk.
It came to nothing when Kyle Seager took a third strike and, after a walk to Danny Valencia loaded the bases, Leonys Martin grounded a first-pitch fastball to second.
“He attacked the strike zone,” Martin said. “He got ahead early in the count, and he’s difficult when he does that.”
The Astros then boosted their lead to 2-0 when Correa opened the bottom of the inning by launching a 449-foot bomb on a 91-mph fastball. The drive somehow stayed just fair down the left-field line as it left the stadium.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Keuchel won a Gold Glove in each of the last three seasons — and he showed why in making a terrific play on what appeared to be a great bunt by Segura in the third inning.
Keuchel pounced quickly on the ball and made an accurate throw to first that just beat Segura for the inning’s final out.
Proving it wasn’t a fluke, Keuchel made a similar play on a softer tapper up the third-base line for the final out in the seventh inning.
“It was kind of a Dallas Keuchel Show with the defensive plays on the bunts,” Servais said. “We put some pressure on him, but he made some great plays. The two bunts were phenomenal plays.”
PLUS: It only counts as one loss…Segura had two hits and was robbed of a third by Keuchel in the third inning…lefty James Pazos needed just 11 pitches to retire four straight batters after entering the game with two outs in the sixth inning…right-hander Casey Fien worked a one-two-three eighth inning.
MINUS: Catcher Mike Zunino had a rough defensive start. He bounced a throw to second in the first inning when an accurate throw would have retired the runner, and he committed catcher’s interference in the third inning…Hernandez has long had problems in fielding his position. This was far from the first time that he broke late for first base on a grounder to right side or came up limping when required to field his position…Martin was hitless in four at-bats with two strikeouts.
STAT PACK: Hernandez struck out six in his five innings and moved past Hall of Fame Lefty Grove and into 51st place on MLB’s all-time list with 2,269…the crowd of 41,678 was a sellout. The Astros have sold out every home opener since 2002…Hernandez is the fifth Mariner and only pitcher to make 10 starts on opening day. The others are designated hitter Edgar Martinez (15), outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. (13), outfielder Ichiro Suzuki (11) and catcher Dan Wilson (10).
QUOTABLE: Asked whether he expected to make his next scheduled start Saturday at Anaheim, Hernandez said: “Oh, yeah. For sure. I’ll be there.”
SHORT HOPS: Springer’s drive in the first inning was the first leadoff homer by a Houston player in a season opener since Terry Puhl in 1980 against the Dodgers…the Astros have won five straight season openers…Keuchel is 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA (two earned runs in 21 innings) in three career starts on opening day.