HOUSTON — The King reigned in June.
Mariners ace Felix Hernandez was picked as the American League pitcher of the month for the fourth time in his career after going 3-1 with a 1.22 ERA in six June starts.
“I’m happy,” he said. “That means I’m pitching pretty good, right?”
Hernandez struck out 54 and walked just six in 441/3 innings in June. He also permitted only 26 hits while holding opponents to a .170/.201/.210 slash (batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage).
“It’s pretty good,” he said, “but I’ve got to keep going. I don’t want it to be just one month. I want it to be the whole season.”
Hernandez is 10-2 overall with a 2.10 ERA in 18 starts. He also has 137 strikeouts in 1281/3 innings. He ranks second among AL pitchers in victories, innings, strikeouts and ERA.
Hernandez, 28, previously won the award in June and September 2009 and August 2012. Oddly, he did not win the monthly award in 2010, when he was the AL’s Cy Young recipient.
No other Mariners pitcher has ever won the award more than twice.
The ignition key
Robinson Cano had a quick answer to explain the Mariners’ offensive breakout that produced 10-4 and 13-2 victories in the first two games against the Astros.
“I was saying to Howard (Johnson), our hitting coach, the other day,” Cano said, “ ‘Hey, we’ve been winning games, and (Jones) hasn’t been getting on base. Wait until you see how many we’re going to score when he starts getting on base (again).’ That’s happened the last two days.”
Jones went 4-for-5 with two runs and three steals in Monday’s victory; then went 3-for-6 with three runs and two RBIs in Tuesday’s victory.
So what happened Wednesday?
Houston led 2-0 when Jones lined a one-out single in the sixth inning. The Mariners went on to score four runs in what turned into a 5-2 victory.
The Mariners’ streak of 46 consecutive games without an unearned run, and American League record, ended in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s 13-2 victory over the Astros.
An error by shortstop Brad Miller on a leadoff grounder by Domingo Santana eventually led to a run against reliever Dominic Leone.
The Mariners’ streak dated to May 11, when an error by third baseman Kyle Seager led to two unearned runs in the third inning of a 9-7 loss to Kansas City at Safeco Field.
The only longer streak in the majors since 1914 was a 48-game run by St. Louis in 2009.
Mariners leadoff hitters are batting .316 (24-for-76) with eight walks in the first inning of games. They have also reached three times on errors.
Endy Chavez has a .600 on-base percentage in 20 games as the leadoff hitter in the first inning even after striking out in Wednesday’s game. He is 10-for-18 with two walks.
First baseman Justin Smoak and outfielder/DH Corey Hart are closing in on the 20-day limits for rehab playing assignments at Triple-A Tacoma.
Smoak is 9-for-41 (.220) with one homer and three RBIs in 11 games since beginning his stay on June 18 for a strained left quadriceps muscle. He missed Tuesday’s game because of general soreness.
Hart is 11-for-36 (.306) with one homer and four RBIs in nine games since the June 21 start of his assignment. He is expected to begin playing the outfield as the final test of his recovery.
The international signing period opened Wednesday. The Mariners are expected to sign Venezuelan outfielder Brayan Hernandez, who is ranked by Baseball America as the No. 3 international prospect. Baseball America also reported the Mariners reached a deal with Dominican outfielder Danny DeJesus Contreras, who was not ranked among the magazine’s top 30 prospects. … Fernando Rodney leads the American League with 24 saves. That also matches J.J. Putz’s 2007 total for the second-most in club history prior to the All-Star break. Kazuhiro Sasaki had 29 prior to the 2001 break. … Cano started Wednesday as the American League leader with a .379 average (25-for-66) with runners in scoring position. … The Astros activated right-handed reliever Anthony Bass from the disabled list. He had been out since May 11 because of a strained rib cage. Lefty reliever Kevin Chapman was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Outfielder Alex Jackson, the Mariners’ top pick in the June draft, was picked by Baseball America as its High School Player of the Year.
Jackson, 18, batted .400 with 11 homers and 31 RBIs for Rancho Bernardo High School in Escondido, California, prior to his selection by the Mariners with the sixth overall pick.
After agreeing to a $4.2 million signing bonus, Jackson was assigned to Peoria in the Arizona Rookie League. He was 8-for-20 in five games through Tuesday.
It was one year ago Thursday — July 3, 2013 — that Kyle Seager’s two-run homer in the 10th inning provided the winning margin in a 4-2 victory at Texas.
Seager’s homer was a two-out drive to right field against Robbie Ross and followed a walk by Michael Saunders. Felix Hernandez worked the first seven innings and limited the Rangers to two runs and seven hits.
The Mariners have an open date Thursday in Chicago before starting a three-game weekend series at 4:10 p.m. PDT on Friday against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
Rookie Roenis Elias (7-6 with a 3.96 ERA) will face Chicago ace Chris Sal e (7-1 and 2.30) in a matchup between two left-handers. Root Sports will carry the game.
The series continues with games at 11:10 a.m. Pacific time Saturday and Sunday before the Mariners return home to complete the pre-All-Star Game portion of their schedule with series against Minnesota and Oakland.