Felix plays stopper with masterful performance to end M’s losing skid

Apr 18, 2015, 11:40 PM | Updated: 11:56 pm
Felix Hernandez struck out 12 Texas Rangers to lead the Mariners to their first win since his previ...
Felix Hernandez struck out 12 Texas Rangers to lead the Mariners to their first win since his previous start. (AP)

SEATTLE – Between Felix Hernandez’s last two starts, the Seattle Mariners scuffled through each game they had and found themselves on the business end of a four-game losing streak. So when it came to Hernandez’s turn in the rotation again on Saturday night, he made sure the skid ended there.

Felix Hernandez: The very definition of a stopper.

When his team needed him the most, the King stepped up by striking out 12 over seven innings of one-run, two-hit ball, willing the Mariners to a 3-1 victory over the Texas Rangers in front of 43,017 at Safeco Field.

With the former Cy Young winner on the mound, it didn’t matter that the Mariners ran themselves out of promising rallies in each of the first three innings, nor did it matter that Seattle hitters were only 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position. The Mariners’ ace had the ball, and he did what he does best to get them back on the winning side of things for the first time in nearly a week.

Oh, and by the way, Hernandez wasn’t even completely healthy – he was still hobbled by a balky quadriceps muscle that knocked him out of his previous start in Oakland six days earlier after only five innings.

“He still wasn’t 100 percent, but I think that just goes to show the type of competitor that he really is,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He really battled, and he battled me to stay in the game. Just a gutsy performance.”

It was questionable whether Hernandez would pitch into the seventh – Texas had worked him up to 98 pitches through six – but he was able to talk McClendon into giving one more inning by stressing how much the team needed a win Saturday. It turned out to be the right choice – he struck out the side to cap off his 111-pitch outing.

“To be at 98 pitches and go out and do what he did in that seventh was huge for us,” said catcher Mike Zunino, whose mammoth solo homer on the first pitch of the bottom of the fifth inning picked up Hernandez after he allowed his lone run in the top of the frame.

While that one run allowed officially counts on Hernandez’s ERA, it was far from conventional and certainly controversial. No. 9 hitter Jake Smolinski scored it after being granted a hit by pitch on a check swing that appeared to hit his bat handle near his hands. The home plate umpire, Adam Hamari, gave Smolinski first base, and the call was held up by replay, though video of the play didn’t give much indication that the pitch ever touched his hands. Smolinski eventually went first to third on a single and then scored on a groundout.

While Hernandez had two HBPs on the night – Adrian Beltre was hit in the first – he clearly didn’t agree with the call on the second one.

“It was only one,” he said of his HBP total. “The other was a foul ball.”

Of the four wins the Mariners have in their 11 games thus far in 2015, Hernandez (2-0, 2.37 ERA) has started three of them. In his 11th MLB season, the 29 year old is continuing to dazzle the King’s Court with gem after gem. And if his team needs a losing skid stopped, there’s still nobody better in the game.

No starting pitcher.

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Felix plays stopper with masterful performance to end M’s losing skid