Here was the King in top form Wednesday night, and the Los Angeles Angels simply didn’t have a chance.
Then again, who would have?
Felix Hernandez was thoroughly dominant for 8 2/3 innings before Fernando Rodney got the final out in a 3-1 victory at Safeco Field. For all that, Hernandez lamented the one out he didn’t get.
“I definitely wanted that (shutout),” he said. “And one out away from a complete game…but that’s fine.”
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Losing the shutout, by yielding two two-out hits in the ninth, was the only blemish on Hernandez’s marvelous performance. He is now 7-1 with a 2.57 ERA and re-staking his claim as the game’s best pitcher.
“I think we’re all getting accustomed to how he’s been throwing,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “He’s coming out and establishing the fastball early. He’s just going to his off-speed pitches when he needs to.”
It was Zunino who staked Hernandez to an early lead with a two-run single with two outs in the second inning against Angels lefty C.J. Wilson. Zunino then delivered an insurance run with a leadoff homer in the eighth.
Five of Zunino’s seven homers have come in Hernandez’s starts.
Synergy among batterymates?
“I don’t know,” Hernandez said, “but we’ve got to talk about it. He’s been doing pretty good every time I pitch.”
The Mariners, beyond Zunino, mustered little against Wilson, who lasted until two outs in the eighth and yielded just five hits. He was good.
Hernandez was just better.
“He has certainly evolved from a young guy who had a terrific fastball and breaking ball when he was 20,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, “into a guy who has really put all of his stuff together.”
True enough, but Hernandez is flashing a reenergized fastball in recent starts. He is touching 95 mph again. Send that message around the league.
“I think he’s feeling pretty good,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He was sick earlier in the year. I think that set him back a little bit. From a physical standpoint, he’s feeling pretty good now.”
Hernandez set the tone early by retiring nine straight batters over the first three innings with five strikeouts. He gave up only four hits while striking out nine and walking two.
“He’s been able to go the first couple of innings of ballgames just using his fastball,” Zunino said. “Then using the off-speed a little bit later. That’s getting him deeper into ballgames.
“His command has been really good, and his stuff has just been electric. The last two starts, there’s been a little extra to the fastball.”
Hernandez was one out away from a two-hit shutout when Mike Trout lined a single to left. After Albert Pujols sliced an RBI double into the right-field corner, McClendon summoned Rodney.
When Rodney retired David Freese on a soft liner to short, for his 13th save in 15 opportunities, the Mariners pulled back to .500 at 26-26.
Hernandez became the seventh pitcher in franchise history to win seven games prior to the end of May.
The others: Rick Honeycutt (1980), Dave Fleming (1992), Randy Johnson (1997), Aaron Sele (2001), Jaime Moyer (2003) and Gil Meche (2003). Sele and Moyer won eight before June 1.
The Mariners scored the only runs they needed after Justin Smoak led off the second inning with a single. Kyle Seager followed with a four-pitch walk. The the runners moved up on John Buck’s grounder to third.
Wilson, 6-4, had a chance to escape when Dustin Ackley fouled out to third, but Zunino sliced a two-run single to right on a 3-1 fastball after laying off some off-speed pitches.
“It’s something I’ve been trying to work on,” he said. “Looking for fastballs that I can handle. I was able to get one, a two-seam away, and (I) didn’t try to do too much with it. I was able to drive it to right field.”
That was it until Zunino’s homer in the eighth.
Hernandez’s only tough inning, before the ninth, came after Howie Kendrick started the fourth with a line single back through the box.
Kendrick moved to second when Trout worked back from a 1-2 hole for a walk. After Pujols flied to left, Kendrick was thrown out on an attempted steal of third. Hernandez then struck out Freese.
The Angels got a one-out single in the fifth from Erick Aybar on a grounder through the right side but nothing more until the ninth.
“The first inning (set the tone),” Hernandez said. “I was throwing my fastball for strikes. After that, I was just pounding the strike zone.”