CLEVELAND – Given that the Seattle Mariners scored three runs and played sloppy baseball Wednesday, Felix Hernandez picked a bad night to be mortal.
Five days after losing to the New York Yankees and giving up four runs, the Mariners ace lasted only 32/3 innings against the Cleveland Indians, gave up eight runs and lost a 9-3 decision.
“I felt good in the bullpen, but when I got in the game, I was like, ‘Where’d my sinker go?’ ” Felix said. “My location wasn’t good.”
It wasn’t just Hernandez who struggled.
“We threw the ball around a little tonight,” manager Eric Wedge said.
Defensively, the Mariners ended their errorless streak at 10 games, and did so with gusto.
When the Indians were scoring four times against Hernandez in the first inning, one of those runs scored on rookie catcher Jesus Montero’s passed ball, another on Montero’s throwing error and a third when Chone Figgins threw the ball away trying to get it back to Montero.
And then, of course, there was the Seattle offense.
Leadoff hitter Dustin Ackley had three hits, including a two-run home run. Behind him, Michael Saunders had two hits and a walk.
Behind them … nothing.
No other Mariners player had a hit until the ninth inning, and only one other – Brendan Ryan, who walked and scored in the third inning – reached base until Kyle Seager’s ninth-inning single.
While Ackley and Saunders combined for five of their team’s six hits, Ackley also was extending his hitting streak to 12 games.
“I’ve made adjustments, it’s been a gradual progression,” Ackley said. “I’ve realized what pitchers are trying to do to me. I’ve quieted my swing down. I’m not jumping at the ball”
During his streak, the second baseman is batting .333 and has pulled his average up more than 30 points to .262.
“I’m sure there will be more adjustments I’ll have to make,” he said.
The Indians may have made the biggest adjustment, and on a night when Felix didn’t have his good sinking fastball, the timing was perfect for Cleveland.
“We saw a lot of video of Felix’s off-speed stuff, and it always looked good coming in but finished out of the strike zone,” Travis Hafner said. “We tried to lay off those pitches, make him throw pitches more up in the zone. It worked.”
It worked, in part because Hernandez wasn’t getting swinging strikes with his breaking ball and change-up – and couldn’t spot his fastball. In 32/3 innings, he threw 103 pitches.
He made no excuses, and discounted the errors made behind him.
“Errors are part of baseball. Players aren’t perfect,” he said. “I threw a lot of pitches and it was my control. I kept falling behind hitters.”
When Felix left the game, he had allowed eight runs – six earned – on 10 hits.
“I’ll forget about this game,” Hernandez said. “It’s been a while since I had one like this.”
Then he smiled.
“This is the last time I’m talking about this game,” he said.
For the Mariners, the loss dropped their record on this 10-day trip to 1-5, their season mark to 16-23 – a full week under .500.
“Felix was just a little off today,” Wedge said. “He’s human, and we forget that at times. Hisashi Iwakuma saved our bullpen tonight.”
Iwakuma, a right-handed Japanese free agent, came in after Shawn Kelley finished the fourth inning and threw four innings, allowing one run – a Travis Hafner home run.
It was his second four-inning appearance of the season.
“I feel better, stronger each time I pitch,” Iwakuma said through a translator. “I could have gone five or six innings tonight.”
Iwakuma may have been inspired by the catcher who caught him in the bullpen as he warmed up – Munenori Kawasaki.
The game turned on good plays and bad, and the bad plays were turned in by the Mariners.
Even when Seattle grabbed a 1-0 first-inning lead it was something of a disappointment. With Ackley at third base and Saunders at second with no one out, the Mariners scored only one run.
Ichiro grounded out to get Ackley in, Montero struck out and Seager flied out, leaving Saunders in scoring position.
Then it got worse.
The Indians scored the tying run when Felix threw a pitch Montero couldn’t stop, and it was ruled a passed ball.
Then with two outs, Carlos Santana stole second base with Asdrubal Cabrera perched on third. Trying to pick off Cabrera, Montero’s throw sailed into left field.
One run scored.
Fielding the overthrow, Chone Figgins – a last-minute substitute for Mike Carp, who had a tender right shoulder – threw home trying to get Santana, and his throw was wild.
By the end of the first inning, Cleveland led, 4-1.
Ackley’s third-inning home run made it 4-3, but Felix couldn’t stop the Indians, who scored four more runs in the fourth inning.
“My fault,” Felix firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @LarryLarue