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A new approach leads to a great night for Hernandez

Felix Hernandez took a shutout into the ninth inning as he earned his seventh win of the season Wednesday. (AP)

By Shannon Drayer

In the bottom of the third inning last night, I looked at my scorecard and realized I had made a mistake. As it happens from time to time I had put the Mariners’ results from that inning in the visitor’s boxes. Darn it, I thought. This could get messy.

It was one of those nights. On most nights I would just grab another scorecard and start over, but not that night. Felix Hernandez had the look like something special could happen and the scorecard would not get changed with that on the line.

Superstitious a little? It’s more a baseball thing and with the time that I have spent with a baseball team the last 11 years I think I am entitled to be a little baseball from time to time. I know that not changing my scorecard, or where I sit, or finding other ways to say “no-hitter” or “perfect game” have absolutely nothing to do with bat finding ball and ball finding a hole for a hit, but I would rather not take any chances. Not with something special on the line. I like special as much as the next person.

It’s what makes every Felix Hernandez start not just one of 162. We’ve seen it once. We expect to see it again. Last night was a night where in the broadcast booth it took only nine pitches for all of us to determine that this could be the night.

It wasn’t, of course. Felix gave up the hit to Howie Kendrick in the fourth inning of Seattle’s 3-1 win over the Angels and the perfect game turned into just a game. Just another great Felix game.

Felix is back in early-April form. He is probably even better. After stalling a bit in late April/early May, Felix has won four straight games and pitched eight innings or more in the last three. He has not given up a home run in his last seven games.

Then there is the added bonus. In his last two starts he has been flashing 95 mph with the fastball out of the gates.

“I’ve still got it,” he said with a smile when asked about this development. “I’ve still got it.”

He’s got it, and he is going to use it.

“It helps me a lot,” he said of the extra two or three miles per hour on the fastball. “It helps my changeup, too, and my breaking balls, but it has to be for a strike.”

Felix used his fastball often early. It was part of the game-plan. A somewhat new approach, according to catcher Mike Zunino.

“I know after his last start he was throwing it really well,” Zunino said. “He had a little extra life on it and he’s been feeling good with it. So we wanted to establish his fastball more often and he did that. He was able to get a lot of strikeouts with his fastball and later in the game was able to settle with his changeup and off-speed pitches. When he does that it is awfully tough to hit off him.”

In spring training, Felix talked about becoming a little too predictable with his best pitch – the changeup – and looking for ways to mix things up a little. Last night he didn’t mix the changeup in very much until he had gone through the lineup once.

“I think they were waiting for the changeup for a strike so I used a lot of fastball,” he said.

A lot of fastball but he hardly abandoned the changeup. He just went to it a little later, 31 times to be exact, which no doubt made for a miserable night for the Angels as they managed just four hits off of him.

Up next, the Yankees on Monday in New York.

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