Felix Hernandez raised his right index finger and pointed toward the sky as he approached the dugout.
Making his second rehab start in Tacoma on Sunday, Hernandez was praised and encouraged by Rainiers fans. Though many had seen him pitch Tuesday, the two starts couldn’t have been more different.
Hernandez worked five strong innings — perfect through the first four and two-thirds, in fact — before hitting his pitch limit in the Rainiers’ 5-3 victory against the Las Vegas 51s.
On Tuesday The King didn’t look like a former Cy Young winner or a No. 1 starter. He lasted just two innings, tossed 50 pitches and gave up five runs off four hits.
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Sunday was a sign of improvement and confidence from Hernandez, who needed only 64 pitches to get through five innings. The velocity on his fastball was in the low-90s, and he used 13 or fewer pitches to escape each of his first four innings.
“I knew it was going to be better today because it’d been a while,” Hernandez said. “Last time I couldn’t find my stuff, it was all over the place. But today it was different.”
The lone run Hernandez conceded came after he allowed his first baserunner in the top of the fifth.
Hernandez walked Desmond Jennings on five pitches after recording the inning’s first two outs. Jayce Boyd’s line-drive double scored Jennings for Las Vegas’ (25-39) first run of the game.
Hernandez’s efforts were aided by a couple of positive plays from his infielders. Third baseman Danny Muno fielded a hard-hit ground ball for an out in the first inning, which garnered a point and nod from The King.
Shortstop Ryan Jackson one-upped Muno in the second, making a sliding stop on a ground ball that would have otherwise been a base hit. Hernandez showed his approval, pointing at Jackson, clapping his hand against his black glove and pointing at Jackson once more.
The Rainiers’ (35-27) bats complimented Hernandez’ performance. Jackson scored on Boog Powell’s sacrifice fly in the third and Leonys Martin scored in the fourth inning on Zach Shank’s RBI single. DJ Peterson’s third homer in as many games added two more runs in the fifth.
A third rehab start wasn’t part of Hernandez’ initial Triple-A plans, but it was announced Saturday that he will need at least one more start in the minors before returning to Seattle. Hernandez might not agree.
“We don’t know that yet,” Hernandez said. “I showed them that I’m ready to go. I don’t know, we’ll see.”