Over the course of a baseball season, a team will suffer through a few lack-luster losses. It’s a product of playing 162 games.
Having one of those dead-pulse defeats when Felix Hernandez is on the mound seems implausible, but it happened Sunday.
The Mariners’ ace was anything but sharp, the defense behind him was worse and the hitting was non-existent as Seattle slogged its way to a 6-0 loss against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.
It was the Mariners third consecutive loss at Cleveland in as many days. They will now try to avoid suffering a four-game sweep Monday in the final game of the series with Hisashi Iwakuma on the mound.
“You are going to have games like that,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It was just one of those days – one of those days for Felix, one of those days for us. We have one more game here and we have to be focused like we have been and snatch this last one and head to Anaheim.”
Hernandez hadn’t had “one of those days” yet this season. Coming in into the game, he was 4-0 with a 0.82 ERA in his past six starts.
But from the first pitch, he was fighting to find command of his pitches. He made it five innings, giving up six runs (five earned) on eight hits with two walks and eight strikeouts. It was the shortest outing of the season for Hernandez, who had gone at least six innings in every start.
“He was a little bit off today, and they did a good job against him,” Wedge said. “They did a good job of laying off some tough pitches, they hit some tough pitches. A few mistakes, they didn’t miss. You have to give them credit. They are a good hitting ball club over there.”
Hernandez wasn’t quite as effusive with praise.
“They have a pretty good line-up, but if you make good pitches, you can get them out,” he said.
After leaving his previous start early with back pain, Hernandz didn’t use it as an excuse.
“I was fine,” he said. “I felt good.”
But good health didn’t mean success.
“It was a weird game,” he said. “I felt good, but I missed with a couple pitches, missed my location. It’s tough.”
His defense didn’t do him any favors.
Michael Bourn led off the game with a soft single to right-center. He used his blazing speed to stretch a single into a double as right fielder Michael Morse was slow to the ball.
Bourn later scored on Michael Brantley’s hard single to right, when Morse came up and fired home, missing the cut-off man, allowing Brantley to move up to second.
That extra base would prove costly, as Justin Smoak couldn’t field Nick Swisher’s groundball to first, letting it get through his legs and allowing Brantley to score from second. It was Smoak’s first error of the season.
“We were a little sloppy in that first inning,” Wedge said.
The second inning was worse for the Mariners. Hernandez got two groundball outs, but Bourn reached on an infield single and Jason Kipnis followed with a single up the middle. Hernandez threw a 0-1 sinker to Brantley that stayed over the middle of plate. Brantley crushed it over the wall in right-center for a three-run homer.
Up 5-0, Cleveland tacked on another run in the fourth. Mike Aviles led off with a double and scored from second on Drew Stubbs’ swinging bunt. Both Hernandez and Jesus Montero charged the slow roller in between the mound and the first base line. Montero picked it up and fired to first for the out. Aviles, seeing that Hernandez didn’t retreat to cover home as Montero made the play, sprinted for home and scored.
“It was kind of a fluke play,” Wedge said. “It’s a swinging bunt and they are both going after the ball. He didn’t cut stride. He just kept on going. That’s just kind of the way today went.”
Hernandez fought his way through the fifth, striking out the side after the first two runners reached base.
“I was like ‘no more, they can’t score here,’” he said.
Even if Hernandez had been stellar, Seattle did nothing against Cleveland starter Justin Masterson. The lanky, side-arm slinging right-hander threw seven scoreless innings, giving up three hits while striking out 11 and walking two.
“Masterson was really good today, he really was,” Wedge said. “He had the ball moving all over the place. He was good against the right-handers and the left-handers. He didn’t get into any patterns. He was adding and subtracting with his velocity. He had it all working today.”
Masterson improved to 7-2 on the season and lowered his ERA to 2.83 on the season. He’s thrown 19 straight scoreless innings. He was the fifth starting pitcher to strike out 10 or Mariners in a start this season.
“He has that power sinker and he’s throwing it in the mid 90s – that’s a tough combination especially when he can flip that slider in there for a strike,” said Kyle Seager, who had one of the three hits. “You have to try to get him in the middle of the plate and up in the zone, but as much as his ball moves, it’s easier said than done.”
Seattle managed just four hits total in the game and only had two runners make it to third base.