MINNEAPOLIS — Start with Felix Hernandez. Add a few clutch hits. (Just a few, but…finally!) And close it out with a clean inning from Fernando Rodney.
How’s that for a winning formula?
“Anytime you give Felix the lead,” right fielder Michael Saunders said, “you feel pretty comfortable. You feel comfortable before the game even starts.”
The Mariners ended a four-game skid Sunday with a 6-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. It came at a cost, though; DH Corey Hart appears headed to the disabled list because of strained left hamstring.
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“Hopefully, it’s just a little strain,” said Hart, who is returning to Seattle for an examination Monday while the club heads to Texas for a two-game series.
“I’ve never had leg cramps. I’ve never pulled a leg muscle. I’m not really sure what to expect or what it is. We’ll get it checked out.”
Everything else was mostly positive.
Robinson Cano and Saunders paced an 11-hit attack that provided Hernandez with, let’s call it, sufficient support. Cano had four hits, including an RBI double.
“I feel good at the plate,” said Cano, who raised his average to .318. “It really helps that we won this game. Now, we’re off (Monday). We don’t have to get on the plane to Texas and think about what we did wrong.”
It was the 25th four-hit game of Cano’s career; his first with the Mariners. (He also has one five-hit game in his 10 seasons.)
Saunders had two hits and two RBIs, which completed a 6-for-12 weekend against the Twins that raised his average to .262.
“I’m seeing the ball well,” he said, “and I got a couple of pitches to hit. I’m getting in good counts, and when I do get those pitches, I feel I’m putting a good swing on it.”
Kyle Seager had an RBI single. Justin Smoak delivered an RBI double. And while, yes, the Mariners could have done more — they were still just 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position — it was enough for Hernandez.
“Good day,” Hernandez said. “I was down in the zone, throwing a lot of strikes. One mistake (to Trevor Plouffe). I left that slider a little bit up. It was off the plate, but he put a good swing on it.”
Plouffe turned that slider into a two-out, two-run single in the third inning, which gave the Twins a 2-0 lead. Hernandez buckled down after that and permitted nothing more before handing a four-run lead to Rodney.
“He gave us everything we wanted,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “It was an ideal situation for us today. Our starter went eight, and we got our closer some much-needed work. It was perfect.”
Hernandez, 5-1, gave up two runs and seven hits in eight innings while striking out five and walking one. Rodney pitched around a two-out single in the ninth in closing out the victory in a non-save situation.
Twins starter Ricky Nolasco, 2-4, opened with three scoreless innings before yielding a run on Seager’s one-out RBI single in the fourth just after Hart suffered his injury.
The Mariners had runners at first and third with one out when Nolasco’s inattention permitted Hart to steal second without a throw. Just as he was about to start his slide, he felt a bite in his hamstring.
“My momentum carried me there,” Hart said, “but I kind of knew my game was over.”
The game turned in the fifth inning after James Jones led off with an infield single. Saunders tied the game with an RBI triple into the right-field corner, and Cano followed with an RBI double off the center-field wall.
Those hits were, precisely, the sort of hits the Mariners failed to get while going 1-for-26 with runners in scoring position in their four-game skid. They added single runs in the sixth, seventh and ninth.
“You can turn everything around in one day in this game,” Cano said. “We’re going to go through ups and downs. We lost the first two games here, but we won the last one. Now, we’ll go to Texas and see what happens.”