BRENT STECKER

Astros’ Dallas Keuchel, groin injury spoil 10th opening day start for Mariners’ Felix Hernandez

Apr 3, 2017, 9:47 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2017, 10:42 am

On a day when Felix Hernandez was supposed to take Major League Baseball by storm again with a new approach on the mound in his 10th career opening day start, it was the man pitching against the Mariners that stole the headlines.

Felix wasn’t bad – far from it – but two mistakes that turned into solo homers and an early exit due to a tight groin opened up an opportunity that Houston’s Dallas Keuchel ran with.

Two hits and no runs in seven innings by Keuchel delivered a 3-0 win to Houston and left the Mariners looking for the wind that had been in their sails earlier in the day after an impressive spring training.

“Keuchel was outstanding. It was kind of the Dallas Keuchel show,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said after the season-opening defeat.

The stage had been set for Felix to make it his show, but a leadoff homer given up to George Springer in the bottom of the first inning made that a little less likely, and the monster shot by Carlos Correa in the fourth inning certainly didn’t help. And when The King came up limping after covering first base on a play in the fourth, hope turned to concern. He turned out to have groin tightness, which was enough to convince Servais that Felix need not come out for a sixth inning after 65 pitches and five strong, if uneven, frames in which he gave up two runs on five hits while striking out six.

“We just thought where we were at there it was probably time to get him out,” said Servais, adding that the Mariners and Felix fully expect that he will make his next start. “He was throwing the ball great, really had good stuff tonight. He made a couple mistakes that hurt him. … He was sharp except the couple mistakes.”

The Mariners’ hitters, on the other hand, were not sharp. Jean Segura had a nice debut in a Seattle uniform with a pair of singles out of the leadoff spot while Robinson Cano added a hit, but that was it for a lineup that was perplexed by Keuchel, who like Felix is a former American League Cy Young winner looking to bounce back after a down 2016 campaign.

Servais didn’t discount Keuchel’s performance, but he put some of the onus on Seattle’s offense.

“Gotta give him credit. He threw a good ballgame,” Servais said. “Dallas Keuchel’s a strike-thrower; he’s not gonna walk a lot of guys. We did chase some balls outside of the zone tonight. It’s opening day. Guys are fired up, they want to make a difference, make a big impact. We got away from our game-plan a little bit in that regard.”

Struggling to get on base with hits, the Mariners decided to test Keuchel’s defense with a pair of bunt attempts that were well-executed – just not enough to best Houston’s three-time Gold Glove-winning pitcher, who made web gems on each of them to keep Segura and Leonys Martin from getting to first base.

“We put some pressure on him, but he made some great plays. The two bunts were phenomenal plays,” Servais said.

In just the first of 162 games, though, Servais was quick to take the shutout loss with a grain of salt.

“They got a good team. We know that. We got a good team, too. We’ll show up tomorrow and be ready to go,” he said. “We have a lot of games ahead of us.”

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