Felix Hernandez is coming off his best start of the season and faces a simple challenge Saturday when the Mariners continue their weekend series against the White Sox in Chicago.
Can he do it again?
Hernandez pitched six shutout innings July 9 in a 4-0 victory over Oakland in the Mariners’ final game prior to the All-Star break. He struck out a season-high eight and permitted just two hits.
"I’m healthy and feeling good," he said. "My mechanics were really good. That’s what happens when you have good stuff."
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Hernandez is much like the Mariners in that he is seeking to find a consistent form after a rocky first half. This much seems certain: The Mariners have little chance to make a postseason push without a productive Hernandez.
They carry a 44-47 record into Saturday’s game at Guaranteed Rate Field but are just three games back in the American League wild-card standings. They have a 12.1-percent chance of reaching postseason, according to Fangraphs.com.
Hernandez is 4-3 with a 4.44 ERA overall in nine starts. As a point of reference, the American League average ERA is 4.37. A quality start (three or fewer earned runs in six or more innings) is 4.50 or better.
"We’re going to need solid outings from him going forward," manager Scott Servais said. "It doesn’t have to be nine shutout innings but keep us in the ballgame."
Hernandez had quality starts in three of his four outings since returning from an eight-week absence stemming from bursitis in his shoulder. Another quality start Saturday is the bar. The hope, after his last start, is for something even better.
***Chicago is starting right-hander Mike Pelfrey (3-7, 4.83) on Saturday against Hernandez. The game starts at 4:10 p.m. Pacific time and can be seen on Root Sports Northwest.
***After winning Friday’s series opener, the Mariners have a chance to win a series against the White Sox in Chicago for the first time since taking two of three from Aug. 10-12, 2007.
***Even after Friday’s victory, the Mariners are 9-28 at Guaranteed Rate Field since the start of the 2008 season.
***Hernandez is 5-6 with a 3.80 ERA in 18 career starts against the White Sox, including 2-5 with a 4.12 ERA in 10 starts at Guaranteed Rate Field.
***Pelfrey is 1-1 with a 3.70 ERA in four career starts against the Mariners. The victory came earlier this season on May 20, when he gave up one run in six innings in a 16-1 victory at Safeco Field.
***Todd Frazier is 3-for-5 with two homers in his career against Hernandez. Tyler Saladino is 5-for-9, while Melky Cabrera is 8-for-25. But Jose Abreu is just 2-for-13.
***Chooch Ruiz is 10-for-31 in his career against Pelfrey, but Robinson Cano is just 3-for-19, and Nelson Cruz is 2-for-11. Kyle Seager is 3-for-10.
***Cano has 37 RBIs in 38 road games. He ranks fourth overall in the American League with 63. The leader is Cruz, who has 70.
***James Paxton and three relievers combined Friday for 15 strikeouts and no walks. It was the fourth time in franchise history that Mariners pitchers had 15 or more strikeouts and no walks.
***The other three games with 15 or more strikeouts and no walks: June 24, 1997 in a 4-1 loss vs. Oakland; June 14, 1993 in a 6-3 victory vs. Kansas City; and May 10, 1988 in a 4-2 victory at Toronto. Randy Johnson started the games against Oakland and Kansas City; Mark Langston started the game at Toronto.
***Hernandez has 2,310 career strikeouts and needs seven more to pass Rube Waddell for 48th place on MLB’s all-time list.
***Seager needs one double to reach 200 in his career, which would tie Harold Reynolds for eighth place on the Mariners’ all-time list. The franchise leader is Edgar Martinez with 514.
***Jean Segura is batting .350 but ranks second in the AL batting race to Houston’s Jose Altuve — even though Altuve is batting .349. Segura is still five plate appearances shy of qualification. Adding an 0-for-5 to his numbers drops his average to .343, which ranks second in the league.
It was 18 years ago Saturday — July 15, 1999 — that the Mariners suffered a 3-2 loss to San Diego in the first game ever played at Safeco Field.
Jose Mesa blew a 2-1 lead in the ninth by issuing four walks before Paul Abbott allowed a game-winning sacrifice fly to Eric Owens. That wasted eight strong inning from Jamie Moyer.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners