Lack of control, clutch hit doom Felix

Alex Rios’ homer, Seattle’s inability to get timely hit, ace pitcher’s missing command deny Hernandez 100th win, 1,500th strikeout by age 27

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.comApril 7, 2013 

CHICAGO — The personal milestones for Felix Hernandez will have to wait for his next start.

The chance for his 100th career victory and his 1,500th career strikeout were blown away on a day when 25-30 mph gusts turned U.S. Cellular Field into a wind tunnel.

It was also a day when his stuff was good but his command was not. Still, Hernandez made only one bad pitch, and it cost him in a 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Saturday afternoon.

“Just one mistake,” he said.

That mistake came in the sixth inning of a 1-1 game. Hernandez gave up a leadoff single to Alejandra De Aza. After getting DeWayne Wise to fly out to left, Hernandez seemed well on his way to a second out, registering two quick strikes on Alex Rios.

Instead of a strikeout, however, Hernandez hung a change-up that Rios launched into the left-field seats for a two-run homer. It was only the fifth homer Felix had given up after an 0-2 count in his career.

“It was supposed to be down and in,” Hernandez said. “It left my hand, and I said this one is going to be up.”

Hernandez would be charged with another run in the seventh inning. He loaded the bases, and then got a fly out. After 109 pitches, he was lifted for Charlie Furbush, who gave up a sacrifice fly to De Aza.

Hernandez pitched 6 innings, giving up the four runs on six hits with two walks and three

strikeouts. In his last two starts on Chicago’s south side, he’s 0-2 with a 6.50 earned-run average.

“The command was just not there,” Hernandez said, refusing to blame it on the windy conditions. “When I don’t have my command, it’s tough to pitch.”

With Felix’s 27th birthday coming Monday, he’s sitting at 99 career wins and 1,497 strikeouts.

That means he won’t be joining Bert Blyleven, Walter Johnson and Dwight Gooden as pitchers who reached 100 wins and 1,500 strikeouts before age 27.

The Mariners didn’t give Hernandez much run support in his bid for win No. 100 – typical of many of his starts it took get the first 99 wins.

Seattle (3-3) grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Raul Ibañez got his first hit of the season – a one-out double to right-center field – and later scored on Dustin Ackley’s hard ground ball to first, a play that was ruled an error.

But the Mariners failed to add to the lead, despite good chances in the fifth and sixth innings. Justin Smoak led off the fifth with a single and Ackley drew a walk, but Kelly Shoppach failed to get a sacrifice bunt down and Brendan Ryan grounded into a double play to end the inning.

In the sixth, the Mariners had runners at first and second with two outs and Ibañez coming to the plate. Chicago manager Robin Ventura brought in left-handed specialist Donnie Veal to face Ibañez.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge left Ibañez in, and Veal struck him out on a nasty 3-2 curveball.

Did Wedge consider bringing in Jason Bay, Jesus Montero or Franklin Gutierrez – all right-handed hitters on the bench – to pinch hit for Ibañez?

“Not at that time for the exact reason that he comes around again later with a chance against a right-hander, and you feel pretty confident it would come back around that way,” Wedge said. “It’s early in the season and you want to give these guys an opportunity. Raul has obviously been a clutch hitter throughout his career.”

To Veal’s credit, he didn’t give Ibañez much to work with.

“He painted a 2-0 fastball away on the outside corner, after two good sliders – not a pitch I want to hit,” Ibañez said. “We got to 3-1 and he dropped a really good breaking ball on me. And, obviously, in a 3-1 count you aren’t looking for that. Once he was able to throw that for a strike, I had to be prepared to hit it. And then he made a good pitch.”

Ibañez got his chance for redemption in the eighth inning, after Michael Saunders had ripped a two-run opposite field homer off hard-throwing left-hander Matt Thornton, who started his career with the Mariners.

“I knew I hit it hard, but I didn’t know what the wind was doing today,” Saunders said. “I knew I barreled it up and kept it low. I don’t know if the wind helped it or not.”

Down 4-3, the Mariners had some life. Kendrys Morales singled up the middle with one out off Thornton, who was lifted for right-hander Jesse Crain. Michael Morse drew a walk, bringing Ibañez to the plate with two runners on.

Crain got ahead 1-2 and blew an elevated fastball past a swinging Ibañez.

“I chased that one,” Ibañez said.

When asked about all the missed chances by the team, Ibañez shouldered the blame.

“I left a couple of chances out there,” Ibañez said. “I didn’t get it done. I’ve got to be better than that.”

There were still only two outs after Ibañez’s strikeout, but Smoak’s sharp grounder to first was gloved to end the inning.

“Every single game we’ve played this year we’ve had runners on base,” Saunders said. “We were just missing that timely hit in the gap or whatever it may be today.

“We fought hard. We were in the game the entire way through. We got down 4-1 and came back and gave ourselves an opportunity. If we continue to do that over the course of the season, we are going to win a lot of ballgames.”

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish

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