Here’s a warm thought on a warm weekend in the Pacific Northwest as the Mariners prepare to head into the final six weeks of their schedule:
Felix Hernandez is starting to look a lot like the King. He worked eight dominant innings Saturday night in an 8-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Safeco Field.
"I’m getting better every time out there," he said. "The first two innings, I wasn’t that loose. Then after that, everything clicked. Good fastball. Good change-up. Good curveball.
"My command to both sides of the plate was better."
This was Hernandez’s seventh start since returning from an eight-week absence because of a strained right calf muscle. He appeared headed toward a shutout before a defensive misplay with two outs in the eighth inning.
"He’s stronger," catcher Mike Zunino said. "He’s finding his rhythm. His command is great. He’s doing a great job of throwing the ball inside to both lefties and righties. That’s opening everything up."
Hernandez’s final line showed two runs and seven hits in eight innings before the Mariners turned to Steve Cishek, just back from the disabled list, to close out their 14th victory in 18 games.
"He’s rounding into Felix form," manager Scott Servais said. "No doubt. He’s healthy. He feels good about where he’s at. He’s got some bullets left in his arm. Having been out as long as he was, he’s still fresh."
Hernandez is now 8-4 overall, including 4-0 in seven starts since returning from the disabled list. He is also on a run of three straight quality starts while allowing five runs in his last 21 2/3 innings.
"I feel really good," he said. "My legs feel fine. My arm feels good."
All good news for the Mariners who improved to 10 games over .500 at 66-56 and closed to within one game of Baltimore in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
The Mariners backed Hernandez by scoring single runs in the third and fifth innings against Milwaukee starter Wily Peralta when Nori Aoki, who finished with three hits, delivered an RBI single and then an RBI double.
The lead jumped to 4-0 when Zunino and Leonys Martin opened the seventh inning against Peralta (5-9) with back-to-back home runs.
Hernandez lost his shutout in the eighth inning when right fielder Shawn O’Malley, just inserted for defensive purposes, misplayed a catchable two-out drive by Ryan Braun into an RBI double.
"I just took a bad route," O’Malley said. "I tried to run to the spot where I thought it was going to land. I was playing kind of shallow and over-ran where I wanted to go.
"By the time I tried to adjust, the ball was already over me, and I couldn’t do anything about it."
That mistake cost another run when Hernan Perez followed with an RBI single before Hernandez ended the inning by striking out Chris Carter.
The Mariners answered those two runs by scoring four times later in the inning against relievers Blaine Boyer and Rob Scahill.
Robinson Cano led off with a double and scored on a throwing error by second baseman Scooter Gennett, who tried to get Cano at third after fielding Nelson Cruz’s grounder.
Kyle Seager drew a walk. Adam Lind hit an RBI double that hopped the center-field wall, and Zunino followed with a two-run double. That quickly, the lead was up to six runs.
"They scored a couple there," Zunino said, "and it’s always nice to go in there and answer back."
Even nicer: the King in top form.
PLAY OF THE GAME: The Mariners executed a successful appeal play to end the second inning by noticing Jonathan Villar did not re-touch second base before retreating to first on Scooter Gennett’s deep fly to left.
Credit to quality-control coach Chris Prieto, who handles the Mariners’ replay equipment.
"It looked kind of funny at second," manager Scott Servais said. "Did (Villar) go back and re-touch? Chris Prieto does a great job on replay. He is on it."
Felix Hernandez stepped off the mound before delivering a pitch to Ryan Braun and threw to second baseman Robinson Cano. Umpire Chad Fairchild signaled the out.
PLUS: Nori Aoki had three hits and nearly had five. He is batting .325 (27-for-83) in 25 games since returning from a one-month demotion to Triple-A Tacoma…Leonys Martin stole his club-leading 15th base (in 20 attempts) in the third inning. He also has hits in seven straight games…Mike Zunino went 2-for-4 and has reached base safely at least once in 17 straight games.
MINUS: Not much. Right fielder Shawn O’Malley’s misplay in the eighth inning led to two runs. That came after he replaced Seth Smith, who was hitless in four at-bats. Nori Aoki got doubled off second base in the first inning, after a leadoff double, on Smith’s soft liner to first base.
STAT PACK: The consecutive homers by Mike Zunino and Leonys Martin in the seventh inning marked the fourth time this season that the Mariners hit back-to-back homers.
The others: Dae-Ho Lee and Kyle Seager in the fourth inning on June 10 vs. Texas; Chris Iannetta and Martin in the fifth inning on June 23 at Detroit; and Seager and Lee in the fourth inning on July 6 at Houston.
QUOTABLE: Former closer Steve Cishek worked a one-two-three ninth inning with two strikeouts in his first appearance since being activated Friday from the disabled list.
"That’s the best I’ve felt in a long time," said Cishek, who was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his left hip after an Aug. 1 appearance against Boston.
"As soon as I got my foot down, I was able to drive the ball down in the zone. I feel a whole lot more comfortable throwing a fastball when I can actually put something behind it."
SHORT HOPS: The Mariners have won eighth straight home games and matched a season-best by moving 10 games over .500 at 66-56. They were 28-18 on May 25 after completing a three-game sweep over Oakland…the Mariners are 21-12 since the All-Star break, which is the best record in the American League…Robinson Cano started the four-run eighth inning with his 29th double. He need one more to reach 30 for a 12th straight year. He is already the only player in history to start his career with 30 or more doubles in 11 straight years.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners