The buzz around Mariners ace Felix Hernandez isn't just that he's 7-1 with a 2.57 ERA or that he's won his last four starts after overmatching the Angels in Wednesday's 3-1 victory. It's that he's showing increased octane on his fastball. He's now touching 95 mph.
"I still got it," he said. "Haven’t (always) used it. But still got it. It helps me a lot. It helps my change-up, too, and my breaking balls."
Some of that extra oomph is due to an off-season workout regiment designed to strengthen his lower torso.
"He’s been able to go the first couple of innings of ballgames just using his fastball," catcher Mike 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."
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Hernandez came within one out Wednesday of his 10 career shutout and his 24th complete game before departing after a pair of two-out hits in the ninth produced the Angels' only run. And he was irked at failing to get that out.
"I definitely wanted that," he admitted. "One out away from a complete game, but that’s fine."
Except his demeanor told you it wasn't.
That might be the biggest difference between Hernandez and the Mariners' other All-Star starting pitcher, Hisashi Iwakuma. While Iwakuma applies a workmanlike, do-my-job approach — and with great success, he is 17-7 with a 2.62 ERA in 38 starts since the start of the 2013 season — Hernandez burns to be great.
And now he's armed with renewed life on his fastball.
Result: He ranks second in the league in wins and strikeouts and first in starts and innings. Prefer new-wave stats? Hernandez ranks first in fielding independent pitching and situational wins.
"He was phenomenal," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Right from the start, I thought he had great command of all of his pitches. His fastball was really exceptional tonight. That’s two times in a row. You can see he’s starting to get stronger. Very impressive."
There's might be no better hitters' park in the minors than Mavericks Stadium in Adelanto, Calif., which Hi-A High Desert calls home. That makes the combined no-hitter Wednesday by Tyler Pike, Mark Bordonaro and Blake Hauser all the more impressive in a 5-0 victory over Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers).
Pike pitched the first six innings, striking out eight, but failed to get the victory because the Mavericks didn't score until Jordy Lara and D.J. Peterson hit homers in a five-run eighth. That meant Bordonaro, who pitched two innings, got the victory. Hauser protected the no-hitter by pitching a clean ninth.
Here's the story from the Victorville Daily Press.
Pike, 20, was a third-round supplemental pick (126th overall) in 2012. He won his first two starts this season but then had six no-decisions and two losses before getting another no-decision on Wednesday. He has a 4.88 ERA for his 11 starts.
Paxton and Walker
Our (seemingly) daily updates on James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, the Mariners' two prized pitching prospects who are laboring through the drudgery of rehab.
The news is mostly encouraging.
Paxton and club officials took a optimistic view in the aftermath of Tuesday's news that an MRI exam found inflammation in his shoulder following a rehab start last Saturday for Triple-A Tacoma. That start was his first game action since a strained back muscle forced his departure from an April 8 game against the Angels.
McClendon contends Paxton should need no more than 10 days to get back to the point where he was prior to Saturday's game. In general, the Mariners believe the inflammation is mild and typical for a pitcher who amps up for game action for the first time in more than seven weeks.
Paxton believes that, too.
"I’m taking a little bit of time off to let it calm down," he said. "Hopefully, it won’t take me off the schedule for too long."
McClendon said Paxton, after those 10 days, will make "at least one and possibly two" before he's ready to return to the rotation. That paints mid-to-late June as a best-case scenario.
Walker pitched three-plus innings Wednesday for Tacoma in his first rehab start. The first three innings went fine, but he appeared to tire in the fourth and surrendered two homers. His final line wasn't great, but he contends he had no problems with the shoulder soreness that put him on the shelf.
The guess, at this point, is Walker will require at least one more rehab start...but that decision might hinge on how Brandon Maurer performs tonight in the series finale against the Angels.
***Veteran outfielder/first baseman Xavier Nady, his contract confirmed by the club, is working out with the Mariners' non-assigned players in Arizona as extended spring training winds down. Plans call for him to move to Tacoma in short order. Details in our daily notebook.
***Outfielder Michael Saunders needs to sit occasionally, McClendon believes, to remain in top form. Also in our notebook.
***Wondering who plays first base if Justin Smoak needs a break (with Corey Hart and Logan Morrison each on the disabled list)? McClendon's answer: "Willie Bloomquist is most likely."
***Smoak is batting .355 (11-for-31) with four homers and 12 RBIs in his last nine games against the Angels.
***Hernandez has 26 career games of allowing no runs in the first eight innings of a start. That leads all pitchers since his 2005 debut. Former teammate Cliff Lee, in that span, ranks second with 24.
Around the farms
***Triple-A Tacoma fell 5-3 to Salt Lake (Angels) in Walker's rehab start. The Rainiers did get a homer from Logan Morrison, though. Our Don Ruiz has the details.
***Double-A Jackson will play two games today at Mobile (Diamondbacks) after heavy rains forced a Wednesday postponement.
***Hi-A High Desert...you already know about the no-hitter.
***Lo-A Clinton squandered a bushel of scoring opportunities before losing 7-1 to Kane County (Cubs). From the LumberKings' website.