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Given two days worth of extra rest and a packed Safeco Field – something that always brings out the best in him – Felix Hernandez didn’t pitch quite like the Felix Hernandez that has been taking the mound for the Mariners much of this season.
On a perfect summer Friday night, the 35,616 in attendance saw something that has never happened in the Hernandez’s career – and it wasn’t a good thing.
The hard-hitting Washington Nationals belted four home runs of Hernandez – the most he’s ever given up during a start – for five runs in what would be a 8-3 loss for Seattle.
The loss dropped the Mariners to 72-61 on the season. Seattle lost back-to-back games for the first time since a four-game losing streak on July 22-25.
And they were bad losses.
“These are situations that are sometimes good to have happen so we’ll know that things aren’t going to be easy,” said Robinson Cano, who had two hits. “You have to fight all the way to the end. Tough game, bad game, there’s nothing else you can do. It’s like we made a lot of errors. They beat us, they scored a lot of runs.”
Much was made about the decision to give Hernandez a few extra days off following a road trip where he had two less than stellar starts. Manager Lloyd McClendon decided to push Hernandez back from his scheduled start on Wednesday to Friday in hopes of keeping him strong for the final month of the season. The decision loomed as regretful when spot starter Erasmo Ramirez was shelled for 10 runs in an awful 12-4 loss to the Rangers.
“I think Lloyd did it for a long term move, not just for Felix but for everybody,” Jewett said. “He was looking at things long term and the workload. We’ll see the benefits of in the days to come.”
The two previous seasons, Hernandez admittedly wore down in the final month. In 2012, he was 0-4 in his last six starts with a 6.62 ERA and dealt with back issues. Last season, he went 1-6 in his final nine starts with a 5.15 ERA.
The decision to push him back was to help combat that kind of decline. It also didn’t hurt that the extra days seemed to pay immediate dividends. Coming into the game, he’d made 13 starts with for five or more days of rest instead of the usual four, in those starts he was 7-0 with a 1.77 ERA.
But he didn’t get those results against the Nationals, taking his second loss in his last three starts and falling to 13-5 on the season.
“Felix is human,” said bench coach Trent Jewett, who was filling in for McClendon while he attends his daughter’s wedding. “We ask a lot of him. We expect a lot of him. And I think he’s up for the challenge. But he’s human and the other team is getting paid too.”
Anthony Rendon started the long ball parade in the first inning, blasting the first pitch he saw from Hernandez over the wall in center field. It was his 18th of the season.
His teammates answered for him, getting the lead back in the bottom of the first on RBI singles from Kendrys Morales and Kyle Seager off of Nationals’ starter Jordan Zimmerman.
But Hernandez couldn’t hold the 2-1 lead. In the third inning with Rendon on first base, Jayson Werth golfed a low fastball over the wall in deep left-center for a two-run homer. The Nats would never trail again.
The lead was pushed to 5-2 in the fourth inning. On the 10th pitch of his at-bat to start the inning, Ian Desmond hit a laser into the Mariners’’ bullpen for his 22nd homer of the season.
Moments later Wilson Ramos hit the fourth homer off of Hernandez yanking a shot over the left field wall to push the lead to 5-2.
Hernandez wouldn’t give up any more homers on the night, but he was done after seven innings, having given up the five runs on 10 hits with a walk and one strikeouts.
“It was a tough outing,” he said. “I couldn’t get out of the middle of the plate for four innings. I was up. And I got crushed.”
Did the extra two days rest take him out of his routine?
“Not at all,” he said.
In his last three starts, Hernandez has allowed 10 earned runs in 17 1/3 innings pitches with 22 pitches and six homers. It leads to questions about his health.
“He hasn’t mentioned any problems healthwise,” Jewett said.
There’s a reason why Hernandez hasn’t said anything.
“I’m healthy,” he said. “Oh yeah, I’m healthy. I’m good.”
Hernandez shrugged off the large ice packs on his hip and lower back he’s had on in between starts.
“That’s preventative stuff just to be careful,” he said. “I’m healthy.”
The Nationals proved to equal opportunity when it came to hitting home runs. In the eighth inning, Bryce Harper crushed his eighth homer of the season, sending one over the wall in right field off of reliever Joe Beimel. Ramos made it back-to-back homers, hitting his second homer of the game and ninth of the season, with a solo shot of Beimel.
Meanwhile the Mariners mustered little after that first inning outburst, squandering scoring opportunities in the third and fifth innings.
They finally got a run in the ninth inning as Endy Chavez came up with a RBI double off of Rafael Soriano to make it 8-3. But it was a meaningless run in a decisive loss.
Some quotes from the Nats:
They were aggressive with Felix and got some balls up in the zone to hit. It’s a big ballpark. You don’t expect that in a park like this. They put some good swings on it.
I don’t think it was necessarily a matter of what he did. It was more what we did. We brought a good approach to the plate today, and we were able to fight off some tough pitches. When he was making good pitches down in the zone, we forced him to get the ball up. We were able to make him pay.
You can’t figure these things out sometimes. Sometimes you get the best guys out there, and you see him good. And sometimes you got a guy that you run into that guys have been hitting good, and you don’t see him good. You can’t figure these things sometimes. He’s a great pitcher. Everybody knows that. We were running good today.