(Felix Hernandez shows his hitting form while ripping a double in the second inning in Seattle’s 5-1 victory on Saturday in San Diego).
Lots of good things happened for the Mariners in their 5-1 win over San Diego, including a strong overall game from Michael Saunders (a home run, single, walk and two stolen bases); two hits and a rare walk from Ichiro (his first in 19 games as leadoff hitter), as well as a stolen base (followed immediately by a caught-stealing at third); and crucial double plays started by Brendan Ryan and Dustin Ackley. More on those in a bit.
Here is a poll from Seattle Times.com:
Should the Mariners consider trading Felix Hernandez before the July 31 deadline?
Most of the talk after the game was about Felix Hernandez — some light-hearted comments about his two-run double in the second, and some serious talk about his second straight strong outing. It’s a welcome turnaround from the three-start stretch in which Felix went 0-2 with a 7.41 ERA, and everyone was asking “What’s wrong with Felix?” Hernandez himself vowed after his last poor outing that he had to pitch better, because he was tired of getting hit around.
Well, in two starts since then, he put up nearly identical pitching lines. In both, he worked seven innings, gave up one run (in the first inning each time), six hits and one walk. The only difference is 10 strikeouts against the Padres last night (his 18th 10K game) compared to seven against the Giants.
“Felix stepped up tonight and we needed him to,” manager Eric Wedge said. “Our starters have been struggling. He’s our guy and we really needed him to step up tonight and he did. And he got a big hit for us.
“He was up a little at times, but controlled the damage. But when he was down, he was down really good. You’re seeing a little more life on his fastball and that runs to his release point on his curveball, the slider, the changeup. All that helps him get out in front. And when he does that and is on the plate and down, he’s about as good as it gets. We saw a lot of that. The only time he got hurt was when he was up a little bit. But I felt he was more consistently down over the course of the ballgame.”
He was hurt by a balk in the first inning, apparently the result of trying to be too quick to first and not stepping completely off the rubber before throwing to first on a pickoff attempt. That let in the only run he allowed. When someone joked about how it wasn’t the only time he was quick in the game, he said with a laugh, “You saw the double, huh?”
Ah, the double. Here’s Hernandez on his approach: “I was going to swing at the first pitch. I knew it was a fastball. Try and hit it good.”
I know a lot of people had the sentiment that Wedge should have allowed Hernandez to hit with the bases loaded in the eighth to give him a shot at another grand slam on the fourth inning of his one off Johan Santana. Not Felix.
“No, no, no. I just wanted to win today. I don’t care about hitting, I just want to win the game.”
Pinch-hitter John Jaso hit the ball hard, but the second baseman fielded it and threw him out at first to end the inning.
Here’s Wedge’s take: “We’ve got to try to add on right there. He’s at 94 pitches, he’s only going to pitch one more inning anyway. He was most definitely going to go back out there if he didn’t get up there, but Jaso has done such a nice job for us in that role. And he smoked it. He hit it right on the nose. But the kid made a nice play. We were probably a foot away from scoring two more runs, which is a completely different ballgame. Because you’re only up four runs there, the fifth run is huge and the sixth run is even bigger as you get late in the ballgame.”
“I didn’t even look at (Hernandez) I didn’t give him a chance to remind me. I saw him peeking over his shoulder when he was on deck and I didn’t look at him then, either. I wasn’t going to give him any indication.”
Here’s what Wedge said about Saunders: “He’s a complete player. Michael Saunders is a complete player. He can hit, he can throw, he can track it down in the outfield. He’s really developing a great feel on the basepaths and really trusting it. Mike Brumley has done a great job with our baserunners. He studies and communicates with these guys. We always have a game plan going on with what we can do, or potentially do.”
Ichiro, meanwhile, is 10-for-19 since getting that day off in Arizona.
“Ichiro is turning it up, as far as I’m concerned,” Wedge said. “I like what I’m seeing. He’s a little more aggressive, early in the count, aggressive with pitches he feels he can drive and not just hit. He’s tough with two strikes and that’s been his game. I like him being more aggressive and looking to barrel the ball up. That’s what we’ve seen more of and he’s had more success. Hopefully we’re seeing the start of him getting himself going, which would be a big lift for us.”
Wedge doesn’t think it’s a coincidence this surge comes after a day of rest.
“I’ve said it before. I think that does mean something. He’s a great player and all great players are a little stubborn because they want to play every day. But ultimately, I think we’ve proven here in my short period of time, with all of the three days off I’ve given him in a year and a half, that he’s had some success afterward. So I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.”