Mariners Insider Blog

Watchpoints: Leaving it up (once again) to the King

Can Felix Hernandez halt the Mariners’ three-game skid?
Can Felix Hernandez halt the Mariners’ three-game skid? AP

How many times has this happened over the years? The Mariners are handing the ball to Felix Hernandez in hopes that he can pull them out of a spin.

The Mariners carry a three-game losing streak into Wednesday’s series finale against Philadelphia at Safeco Field. The skid pushed them back under .500 at 39-40 and comes after a six-game winning streak.

This is Hernandez’s second start since returning from a 54-game absence due to bursitis in his shoulder, which was diagnosed after a quick exit in an April 25 outing in Detroit.

Hernandez made a successful return last Friday in a 13-3 victory over Houston which, incidentally, is the last time the Mariners won. He gave up three runs and eight hits, including two homers, over six innings in a 96-pitch performance.

Afterward, Hernandez assessed his return as "OK." The big plus was he experienced no issues with his shoulder.

"The shoulder feels good," he said. "I feel loose. And in-between innings, I felt good. It’s a great thing."

Hernandez is 3-2 with a 4.68 ERA overall in six starts, but home runs have been a problem. The two he gave up against the Astros pushed his season count to eight in just 32 2/3 innings.

Part of that stems from his new approach in seeking to attack hitters in an effort to limit his pitch count and work deeper into games. It’s a trade-off. If you seek to induce contact, it’s going to be loud on occasion.

The hope is the damage doesn’t follow a walk or two — and the King’s walk rate of 1.1 per nine innings the season is the lowest of his career and down from 3.8 a year ago.

Notably, all but one of those eight homers came with the bases empty.

Mostly, though, Hernandez stressed it was great just to get back on the mound.

"I was going crazy when I was on the DL," he said, "but I knew I was going to come back, and I knew it was going to be good."

That’s what the Mariners need Wednesday to pull them out of their funk.

Other watchpoints:

***The Phillies are starting right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. (1-0, 3.60) on Wednesday. The game starts at 12:40 p.m. and can be seen on Root Sports Northwest.

***First baseman Danny Valencia is 8-for-11 in his last three games.

***Nelson Cruz doesn’t have a homer in his last 19 games. It is his longest drought since a 20-game run in 2015.

***The Phillies are in a stretch of 20 games where each one starts at a different time than the one prior to it. They will not play consecutive games at the same time until July 17-18 at Miami (both are 7:10 p.m. starts).

***The Phillies, by winning Wednesday, will win a road series for the first time since winning two of three against the Mets in New York from April 18-20.

TIME CAPSULE

It was five years ago Wednesday — June 28, 2012 — that Felix Hernandez pitched a complete-game shutout in a 1-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Safeco Field.

John Jaso produced a walk-off victory with a pinch-hit single that scored Casper Wells in the ninth inning.

Hernandez struck out 13 and walked one in pitching a five-hitter. 

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

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