So what if the Seattle Mariners are the only team in the American League to not have a starter complete at least seven innings more than one time.
Apparently six innings is the recipe.
And when Dee Gordon can’t get out.
Felix Hernandez is the third consecutive Mariners pitcher to last six innings in a start, and they’ve had that in six of their past seven games – with all six leading to wins.
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This time it was in the series opener against a potent Oakland Athletics for a 6-3 victory on Tuesday at Safeco Field.
“I’m OK if we go six (innings) and we win every day,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “That’s a pretty good formula.
“Some nights have been crisper than others, but keep us in the ball game. If you give us six innings, we’re in really good shape with our bullpen.”
And with Dee Gordon.
He finished 5-for-5 with stole two bases – pushing his American League lead in that category to 12. And this that was after going 4-for-5 in Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Indians.
In his past three games, Gordon is 11-for-14 (.786) at the plate. He raised his season batting average 30 points to .339.
The Mariners are 16-5 when the speed-demon has at least one hit. And they’re 17-11 for the season.
“Anybody who doesn’t like watching that, you’re crazy,” Servais said of Gordon. “It’s energy. It’s slapping the ball all over the field. It’s stolen bases.”
And Nelson Cruz’s two-out, three-run home run topped it off.
“Cruz does what the Boomstick does,” Servais said.
Now, to Hernandez.
He said there was one other key to the Mariners’ success: LeBron James’ hitting game-winning shots for the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s the first thing Hernandez talked about afterward.
“Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah,” Hernandez said. “Hopefully he always plays on game day.”
Hernandez appeared on his way to that elusive seven-inning outing. He had allowed one run (on Jed Lowrie’s first-inning solo home run) and two hits on 91 pitches entering the frame. And he had tied a season-high with seven strikeouts.
“Really good game and it starts on the mound, obviously,” Servais said. “Felix was right on tonight. Command of the fastball, curveball and starting to see the changeup come back tonight and be a real weapon for him. Probably one of the sharper outings he’s had all year for us to this point.”
But then he walked Khris Davis and allowed a double to Matt Olson. That ended his day after a season-high 101 pitches.
“Yeah, man – I wanted to go seven so bad,” Hernandez said. “I made a mistake with the lefty and he hit a double. It happens.”
Those two runs eventually scored, but no matter – because the Mariners’ bullpen has locked down.
They have yet to lose a game when their bullpen has inherited a lead. Make this 13-0 when they do that.
Nick Vincent held the lead in the seventh, despite the Athletics getting those two runs (both charged to Hernandez).
Then Juan Nicasio earned his 11th hold (most in the major leagues) with his clean outing in the eighth inning and Edwin Diaz locked down the ninth for his major-league-best 12th save.
Makes you wonder how this bullpen might look if David Phelps didn’t have to get season-ending Tommy John Surgery during spring training.
“They’re pretty good,” Hernandez said. “Trust me, they’re pretty good.”
Now, about the offense.
The game was tied, 1-1, entering the fifth inning and the Mariners did what they do as well as any team in the major leagues has – two-out hitting.
With Gordon and Jean Segura aboard, Robinson Cano sent a shot 403 feet to center field … for an out at the wall.
But Cruz didn’t miss. He sent Andrew Triggs’ middle-high slider 410 feet for a three-run home run – his sixth this season – to give the Mariners a 4-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
A few takeaways:
Dee Gordon became the third player in Mariners history to have at least four hits in back-to-back games.
Can you guess the other two?
Kendrys Morales did that in 2013. And Ichiro Suzuki did that three times (last in 2006).
“It’s pretty cool, man,” Gordon said. “I just got here and I didn’t know much about that. I heard about it a little while ago. It’s pretty cool, man. But more importantly, we won.”
There’s just few things as fun as watching Gordon terrorize opposing teams.
He tied a career-high with five hits (the third time the 30-year-old has done that in his career). And this was after he was 4-for-5 against the Indians on Sunday. So he’s 9-for-10 his past two games and 11-for-14 his past three games.
The only game the Mariners won when Gordon didn’t get a hit? That was a 1-0 win over the Chicago White Sox.
What a play
Kyle Seager had one of the finer defensive plays of the season in the second inning.
He ran toward the third-base line to back-hand Matt Chapman’s ground ball and then quickly tossed the ball to second base while falling away to get Matt Olson before Robinson Cano threw to first to complete the double play.
And, of course, Seager led off the bottom half of the frame and sent the first pitch he saw for a ground-rule double over the wall in right-center field. He scored two batters later on Mike Zunino’s double to left in Zunino’s first at-bat at Safeco Field this season.
That tied the game, 1-1.
And then in the fifth inning, Hernandez struck out Mark Canha and Mike Zunino fired a throw off a bounce to second base to catch Matt Chapman trying to steal. Hernandez followed by striking out the next batter for his seventh strikeout.
“I thought the key tonight was our defense,” Servais said. “I don’t think the guys get enough credit. The 5-4-3 double play that Seager started and the strike-em-out-throw-em-out with Zunino was a big play. Really what we need to help our pitching out is making those types of plays and we got the guys who are capable of doing that.”
Two-outs, so what?
Nelson Cruz’s three-run home run in the fifth inning gave the Mariners 19 home runs with two outs in their first 28 games this season.
That is tied for the most in the major leagues, alongside the Athletics. The New York Yankees, like the Mariners, entered with 18 two-out home runs.
Play of the game
The Mariners needed to break through. They got it with Nelson Cruz’s three-run home run.
His homer traveled 410 feet – just after Robinson Cano was the second out of the inning on a 403-foot fly out. Cruz now has six home runs this year.
But it came because Dee Gordon got on base with a single and Jean Segura drew a walk.
Can’t say enough about Juan Nicasio and Edwin Diaz at the back-end of the bullpen. Nicasio leads the majors in holds and Diaz leads the majors in saves.
But Felix Hernandez had probably his sharpest outing of the season, especially through six innings. The seventh tainted his stat line, finishing at three hits allowed, three runs, four walks and seven strikeouts. But he entered the frame having allowed two hits, one run and three walks.
“Every time I got out there every five days, I’ve been feeling even better,” Hernandez said.
Dee Gordon was 5-for-5 with a ground-rule double (that would have been a triple had it not bounced into the stands) and two stolen bases. No other Mariners player has done that in their team history.
He’s the energizer to the Mariners’ lineup.
And his past three games? He’s 11-for-14.
Hernandez was asked what’s allowed him to be so dominant against the Oakland Athletics in his career? He entered Tuesday’s game with a career record of 25-10 with a 2.61 ERA in 48 starts against the A’s.
Hernandez turned around and knocked on the wood of his locker in the clubhouse.
“I have no idea why,” Hernandez said. “Just go out there and compete every day.”