Seattle Mariners

What happened to Felix Hernandez (and his fastball)? Takeaways from Mariners' struggles in San Francisco

Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Marjama, left, talks to starting pitcher Felix Hernandez after Hernandez gave up a run on a sacrifice fly to the San Francisco Giants during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, April 4, 2018, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Marjama, left, talks to starting pitcher Felix Hernandez after Hernandez gave up a run on a sacrifice fly to the San Francisco Giants during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, April 4, 2018, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) AP Photo

Maybe it’s James Paxton’s turn to get on track. Because the Mariners’ other ace isn’t.

Not even in some of his struggles the past two years did Felix Hernandez ever get rocked like this.

And there certainly couldn’t have been many other times he struggled mechanically and with his command like he did in Wednesday’s 10-1 loss to the Giants in San Francisco, where he allowed eight runs on six hits and three home runs in four innings – and maybe more alarmingly walked five batters.

His fastball was more than a mile-per-hour slower on average than on Opening Night at Safeco Field last week, when he pitched 5 1/3 shutout innings against the Indians. And he used his fastball far more often, too.

That fastball is no longer Hernandez’s bread-and-butter pitch. Not when it averaged 88.8 mph like it did on Wednesday (after it was at 90.3 last week).

“Absolute extremes from what we saw opening night,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Getting to his curveball tonight and some of his other pitches, we didn’t see him do well and he did that really well opening night. It’s struggle with his fastball command like we talked about and getting back to his pitches and sequencing them the right way and it just didn’t happen tonight.”

And Servais said the slower fastball was a result of poor mechanics.

“No concern,” Servais said. “It’s all mechanical. When you’re rushing and your arm is dragging behind, it is hard to generate and drive the ball downhill and stay behind it. More than anything it was mechanical tonight.”

Let’s get to it. Three takeaways:

FELIX STRUGGLES: The last time Hernandez surrendered this many runs he was pitching at Fenway Park against the Red Sox on Aug. 15, 2015 – when he allowed 10 runs in 2 1/3 innings.

And this one started bad from the first inning in his first career start at AT&T Park. Hernandez issued a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk to Pablo Sandoval, scoring Joe Panik. And Hernandez followed with a wild pitch against Brandon Crawford that scored Brandon Belt.

That pitch was in the dirt and skipped off Mike Marjama’s glove. So maybe if that were Mike Zunino behind the dish (he’s on the 10-day disabled list with a strained oblique) maybe that’s a different outcome.

Crawford followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0 in the first inning.

Then Gorkys Hernandez – who hit one home run in 348 plate appearances last season – tagged Felix Hernandez for one in his third plate-appearance of 2018.

But the backbreaker was Sandoval’s home run. He apparently called it before that he’d hit one out in his first start of the season on Wednesday and he rocked Felix’s 87-mph slider for a three-run home run, not long after Bradon Belt’s solo home run.

But to Hernandez’s credit, he only pitched five innings during spring training while he recovered from a comebacker hit off his upper forearm and even last week he was on a pitch count.

“We knew coming out of this when we brought him back the way we did for opening night at our place that there could be some hiccups along the way,” Servais said. “But seeing Felix pitch as much as I have the past couple of years, he’s really quick at making adjustments and tonight he wasn’t able to.”

And Hernandez had typically feasted on National League hitters. He was 23-9 with a 2.92 ERA in 42 career interleague starts, with his last interleague loss coming on June 15, 2007, at Houston, before the Astros had joined the American League West.

His 10-game road interleague streak was tied for the longest active streak in baseball and was tied with Bartolo Colon for longest in interleague history.

Left-hander James Pazos took over for Hernandez in his first outing of the season. He ensued to allow another home run that inning – this time to Crawford, as the Mariners trailed 9-0.

VOGELBACH SURGE: Daniel Vogelbach showed much of the same stuff he was doing all of spring training.

In his first start at first base of the season, Vogelbach finished 2-for-4 with an RBI double. That was the Mariners’ only run of the game against Giants’ starter Johnny Cueto.

And he also impressed Servais in his final at-bat, even though it was a ground out, against left-hander Tony Watson. It was the left-handed Vogelbach’s first start at first base in the place of offseason pickup Ryon Healy.

“Vogey swung the bat really well tonight,” Servais said. “Even against the lefty there. Nice to see. His confidence is at an all-time high as far as what we’ve seen from him. He’ll continue to get other chances.”

QUIET CANO: Robinson Cano has been quietly effective in the first week of the season.

He went 2-for-4 again on Wednesday to keep his batting average at .500 with a 1.217 OPS. Cano is leading MLB in batting average after five games.

Mitch Haniger also went 1-for-2 and reached base three times with a pair of walks. His OPS of 1.533 is tops in baseball in this very young season, just ahead of the Nationals’ Bryce Harper (1.517).

Cano, Haniger and Dee Gordon have each hit safely in each of the Mariners’ first five games.

It should also be noted that despite this lopsided loss, the Mariners are 3-2 to open the season, after being 1-4 to start last year and 2-3 in 2016.

ON TAP

Left-hander James Paxton (0-1, 11.57 ERA) looks to rebound from his rough command in his first start of the season last week, when he allowed six runs in four innings against the Indians.

He traveled ahead of the Mariners to frigid Minnesota to take on the Twins at 1:10 p.m. on Thursday, who start RHP Kyle Gibson (1-0, 0.00 ERA). It is supposed to be about 31 degrees by game time, according to AccuWeather.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
@TJCotterill
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