Seattle Mariners

‘It’s embarrassing.’ Somber Felix Hernandez says he has to be better

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez delvers a pitch during the first inning of the team’s baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, July 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)
Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez delvers a pitch during the first inning of the team’s baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, July 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong) AP

Felix Hernandez’s final line about says it all. He pitched 2 2/3 innings, was charged with seven runs, six earned, and six hits with one strikeout.

Oh boy.

The Mariners’ offense finally scored at least four runs. It just wasn’t nearly enough with the Los Angeles Angels cruising to an 11-5 victory on Saturday at Angel Stadium to hand the Mariners their second consecutive loss and fourth in the past seven games.

Hernandez hasn’t sounded quite like this after a start maybe ever in his career. He took full ownership of his struggles.

“I mean, it’s embarrassing,” Hernandez told reporters afterward. “If we’re going to make the playoffs, I have to do something better than this. That’s all I got to say.

“It’s really difficult. It’s really difficult and really frustrating. I have to do something about it.”

He was asked if his back, which sent him to the disabled list earlier this month, had anything to do with his outing.

“It’s not that,” he said. “It’s just the worst performance.”

That was a somber Hernandez. He’s clearly cognizant of his place in the Mariners’ rotation at this point in his career.

And how could it be anything but difficult?

Hernandez was 16 when he first signed with the Mariners. He was at times the only bright spot in so many dark Mariners seasons, and now the only organization he’s ever known has its best shot at reaching the postseason for the first time since 2001, yet Hernandez continues to be the weak link in the Mariners starting rotation, despite occasional signs of the old form.

“Really a noncompetitive outing today,” Mariners manager Scot Servais said.

Servais was asked how the Mariners handle Hernandez’s place in the rotation going forward.

“We got to wait and see,” Servais said. “We’ve put ourselves in a position coming down the stretch here where we have a chance to fight for a playoff spot, and every time out you need to be competitive and have a chance to win and we just haven’t had that the past few times out.

“I don’t’ think it’s a simple conversation with anybody, let alone with what Felix has done throughout his career. We certainly saw some good stuff in the first half. He certainly had a handful of outings that were very good against really good ball clubs. You saw the command of the fastball and life on the pitches – we just haven’t seen that the past few times out.”

The Mariners do have right-hander Erasmo Ramirez nearing a return to the big leagues. He’s pitched two rehab outings with Triple-A Tacoma with another scheduled on Monday.

July will not end soon enough for the Mariners (61-43).

They are 8-12 this month, their most losses of any month so far this season, despite this one being shortened by the All-Star break. They now have a minus-six run differential for the season.

They did get some fortune with the Athletics losing to the Rockies and Astros lost to the Rangers. So the Mariners remain a game ahead of the A’s and five back of the Astros in the American League West.

But they have a Felix Hernandez problem.

Hernandez avoided eye contact with manager Scott Servais who exited the dugout with two outs in the third inning to pull the 32-year-old. He walked off and moments later right-hander Casey Lawrence offered a three-run home run to rookie catcher Francisco Arcia.

Two of the runs were charged to Hernandez, giving him six earned runs (seven total).

The highest ERA he’s had for any season was 4.52 in 2006, his first full major-league season.

Four years ago he had a 2.14 ERA in 34 starts, when he was second in the American League Cy Young voting. His Cy Young season of 2010 he had a 2.27 ERA.

If it’s any sort of consolation, the Angels scored all 11 of their runs with two outs.

Mike Trout, of course, started the scoring with a solo home run in the first inning. That’s his 29th homer of the year, but Hernandez’s first-inning ERA actually lowered to 9.43 (the third-highest in the majors).

“Right from the get-go tonight there wasn’t much to work with,” Servais said.

Just like in the first inning, Hernandez got the first two batters out in the second, including a strikeout of Andrelton Simmons. But then he walked Ian Kinsler and then Francisco Arcia sent a two-out double for another Angels run before Mariner-killer Kole Calhoun followed with a two-run double for a 4-1 Mariners deficit.

Hernandez got another two outs in the third inning, getting Trout and Albert Pujols to fly out. But Justin Upton and Simmons singled before Kinsler’s RBI single ended Hernandez’s day.

Arcia added more embarrassment to Hernandez’s pitching line, sending a 2-2 pitch from Lawrence over the right-field wall for a three-run home run.

Of pitchers with at least 15 starts this season, Hernandez has the fifth-highest ERA in the major leagues behind the Marlines Wei-Yin Chen (5.65), Orioles’ Alex Cobb (6.08), White Sox’s Lucas Giolito (6.09) and Royals’ South Kitsap graduate Jason Hammel (6.12).

Even last year, when Hernandez went to the disabled list twice, he had a 4.36 ERA (the second-highest of his career). In 2016 it was 3.82. In 2015 it was 3.53.

Yes, now it is 5.58.

That was the fifth time in his 14-year career Hernandez has failed to get through the third inning and first since April 25 of last season when he allowed four runs in two innings of a 19-9 loss to the Detroit Tigers.

“Tonight we just didn’t pitch well right from the beginning,” Servais said. “But we got a lot of baseball left to play. There’s going to be some games like this when you just don’t have it and you get down early. You got to continue to compete and be professional about it. We got to show up tomorrow ready to play and get after them right from the beginning.

“We got Marco (Gonzales) on the mound and Marco has probably been our most consistent guy. So we need to come out and establish something early in the game tomorrow.”

Here’s a few takeaways:

What about Felix?

So what do the Mariners’ do about Felix Hernandez?

He allowed four runs in five innings his last start, a 5-0 loss to the White Sox, but said his stuff was some of the best he thought he’s had this year. This one was a clunker from the get-go, as has been the case in more than a few of Hernandez’s starts this year.

He got the first two outs of the first inning but then left a changeup in the middle of the plate to Mike Trout. You don’t leave pitches in the middle of the plate to Mike Trout – he obliged with a home run.

Then he walked two of three batters after getting the first two outs in the second inning before throwing a curveball down the middle of the plate to Kole Calhoun. He made it 4-1, Angels, with a two-run double.

“When you don’t have strikeout stuff you can’t give up free bases,” Servais said. “The balls were up in the strike zone on the ones that were hit. When you’re not commanding the fastball and there’s not much to the secondary pitches, it’s going to be rough getting through a major league lineup.”

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Seattle Mariners’ Nelson Cruz, right, celebrates his solo home run, near Los Angeles Angels catcher Francisco Arcia during the fourth inning of baseball game in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, July 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong) Kyusung Gong AP

Cruz heating up

Nelson Cruz hit his first home run since July 4 in the Mariners’ 4-3 extra-innings loss to the Angels on Friday.

He added two more in this one, launching a solo shot off the foul pole in the second inning and then into the Angel Stadium rocks in the fourth inning, giving him 25 homers for the season.

That pretty much backs up what Servais had been saying in the past week – with Cruz mired in a .212 batting average for the month of July entering the game – that when Cruz gets hot, the homers come in bunches.

Guillermo Heredia then added a homer in the seventh inning, his fourth of the season.

Catcher solved

The Angels traded catcher Martin Maldonado to the Houston Astros for a prospect on Thursday.

They seem to have their replacement. Francisco Arcia went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a three-run homer and six RBI.

That was after Arcia made his major-league debut on Thursday with a home run and four RBI.

That’s 10 runs batted in in his first two career games – a major-league record for a players’ first two big-league games.

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Los Angeles Angels’ Francisco Arcia, right, watches his three-run home run next to Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino during the third inning of baseball game in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, July 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong) Kyusung Gong AP

Play of the game

Felix Hernandez walked off the mound, seemingly steaming, after 2 2/3 innings with the Angels taking a 5-1 lead on Ian Kinsler’s RBI single.

The Angels made it a laugher when Francisco Arcia followed with a three-run home run to give the Angels an 8-1 lead.

Top batter

Francisco Arcia went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a home run and six RBI in his second career big-league game.

The Angels’ No. 8 hitter has 10 RBI in his first two big-league games, a major-league record.

Nelson Cruz went 2-for-4 for the Mariners with two home runs, and he has three home runs the past two games.

Top pitcher

It looked like another rough day for the struggling Mariners offense with Angels starter Jamie Barria allowing two runs in six innings on five hits.

They did get Noe Ramirez for three runs in two innings for their first outing of at least four runs scored since last Sunday against the White Sox (an 8-2 win). They scored fewer than four runs in 13 of their 20 games in July and are 8-12 this month.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677; Twitter: @TJCotterill
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