Felix Hernandez delivered the sort of big-time performance the Mariners desperately needed Friday night by pitching into the eighth inning before the bullpen closed out a 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers.
"Not a lot a strikeouts," he said, "but I was around the zone pretty much. They’d swing early, and we got quick outs."
A lot of well-located fastballs, which set up his plus off-speed pitches.
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"I like the new-look Felix," manager Scott Servais said. "I’ll take the 7 1/3 (innings) and keeping them right there. Very efficient with his pitches. He got a few strikeouts tonight, but that’s not what was driving him.
"He’s got a little chip on his shoulder. We knew that was going to happen (with some many people doubting him). And so far, it’s been great."
And, still, it was barely enough.
Marc Rzepczynski stranded the tying run in the eighth inning before Edwin Diaz, in his first outing since last Sunday’s meltdown at Anaheim, secured the victory (VIDEO LINK) by stranding a runner at third in the ninth inning.
"Eddie Diaz has a good arm," Servais said, "and he let people know that. He’s also got a good slider, but what separates him is he throws 100 miles an hour. He was reminded of that over the last couple of days."
So the Mariners stopped the bleeding, by winning for just the third time in 11 games, but, boy, did it come tough. They saw Mitch Haniger’s drive in the seventh (VIDEO LINK) switch from a three-run homer to a one-run single on review.
But they held on.
"We’re going to keep grinding," center fielder Jarrod Dyson said. "We’re going to find a way. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. We didn’t get off to the start we wanted, so we’ve put our first 10 games behind us."
It was 1-1 when Dyson opened the seventh inning with a single through second baseman Rougned Odor. Dyson then stole second on a close play; Texas challenged, but the call was confirmed.
Guillermo Heredia moved Dyson to third with a bunt single when pitcher Jose Leclerc (0-1) boxed the ball.
Haniger then sent a drive to deep left that third-base umpire C.B. Bucknor initially signaled to be a home run. A replay review clearly showed the ball hit the top of the wall.
"Off the bat, I really didn’t know," Haniger said. "I was just trying to get a ball in the air. A sac fly, that’s what was on my mind. I hit it pretty good."
Instead of a three-run homer, Haniger settled for an RBI single. Instead of a three-run lead, the Mariners settled for a 2-1 edge with runners at first and second with no outs.
Once that got sorted out, the Rangers changed pitchers to Dario Alvarez for a left-on-left matchup against Robinson Cano, who popped out.
Then another pitching change to Jeremy Jeffress to face Nelson Cruz, who homered earlier. This time, he grounded into an inning-ending double play.
So no cushion.
Hernandez (1-1) returned for the eighth inning but exited after Carlos Gomez’s one-out single. After some initial boos at the decision, the crowd of 41,855 stood and applauded Hernandez as he walked toward the dugout.
Rzepczynski retired Shin-Soo Choo on a grounder to first as Gomez moved to second before ending the inning when Nomar Mazara grounded out to short.
Diaz got two strikeouts in the ninth inning before Elvis Andrus punched a single to left. Andrus broke for second on a pitch to Jonathan Lucroy. When a slider got away from catcher Mike Zunino, Andrus reached third.
But Diaz ended the game by retiring Lucroy on a grounder to third. Another slider.
"I just threw my pitch. I have a lot of confidence in Zunino. He called the slider, and I wanted to throw it again. It was a good pitch. He hit it to third, and (Kyle) Seager made the play."
PLAY OF THE GAME: Danny Valencia continues to look like a good defensive fit at first base. He ended the first inning (VIDEO LINK) by holding the base while stretching to catch an off-line throw from Seager.
Valencia’s bat, though, remains in cold storage. His average is down to .132 after going hitless in three at-bats.
PLUS: Cruz got his 800th career RBI when he hit a two-out homer (VIDEO LINK) in the fourth inning against Texas starter Martin Perez…Hernandez’s outing with 117th in his career that he pitched seven or more innings while allowing fewer than two runs…Haniger has hits in eight straight games…Dyson has reached base safely at least once in nine straight games…
MINUS: Heredia inexplicably tried to tag up at first base on Haniger’s deep drive in the seventh inning. As a result, the Mariners had runners on first and second when replays showed the ball didn’t clear the wall. If Heredia makes the right read, they have runners on second and third with no outs…the Mariners knocked out Perez by putting runners at first and second with no outs in the sixth inning. Leclerc replaced Perez and struck out Taylor Motter, Valencia and Zunino.
STAT PACK: The attendance, swelled by the miniature Griffey statue giveaway, was 41,855.
QUOTABLE: "We had a perfect view (on Haniger’s drive) down there (in the bullpen)," Rzepczynski said. "We knew it was off the top of the wall. We knew it was going to get overturned. But we got one run, and Eddie and I were able to preserve the lead after that."
SHORT HOPS: The Mariners posted their first one-run victory of the season. They have lost three one-run games…the Rangers failed to hit a homer for the first time this season.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners