The King’s not dead and, suddenly, the Mariners’ pulse seems a little stronger after rolling into the All-Star break Sunday with a 4-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field.
It’s just one game against a last-place club. Maybe it will soon turn into a footnote in what, to date, has been a disappointing 43-47 season. But Felix Hernandez on Sunday resembled the King Felix of years past.
Hernandez permitted just two hits in six dominant innings. He walked three but struck out a season-high eight in doing what he’s so often done throughout his career — pull the Mariners out of a skid.
"Hands down," manager Scott Servais said, "that was the best effort and the best stuff he’s had all year. That’s what guys who have had the career he’s had (can do), they can turn up the dial a little bit.
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"He knew we needed this ballgame, and he needed to have a good effort for us. And he certainly did."
Hernandez said he used his between-starts bullpen workout to correct a mechanical flaw in his delivery that surfaced in a rocky outing against Kansas City in his previous start.
"I made a good adjustment in the bullpen," he said. "I was on top of the ball, and I was able to make good pitches. I’m healthy and feeling good. My mechanics were really good."
Nelson Cruz hit a two-run homer in the victory but pointed to Hernandez as the key.
"We need Felix more than anything else," Cruz said. "It was nice to see him dominate. He was really on top of his game. Hopefully, that leads to a good second half."
Hernandez, now 31, missed nearly two months because of bursitis in his shoulder, which forced his departure from an April 25 start in Detroit.
This was his fourth start since he returned. The first two, against Houston and Philadelphia, were workmanlike: three runs in six innings. Kansas City then shelled him for six runs in six innings.
Then Sunday’s return to glory.
Add these qualifiers: Hernandez has, throughout his 13-year career, consistently dominated the Athletics. And these Athletics are a last-place club that ranks 12th among the 15 American League clubs in scoring.
But if Hernandez’s performance truly traces to whatever flaw he fixed in a bullpen workout, if he can pitch this way on a consistent basis, the Mariners can truly dream about mounting a postseason push over the season’s closing weeks.
"He understands things haven’t been going well for him," Servais said. "The bar is so high for him, but he still has the ability, and he’s a really good competitor. We saw that today."
Can he do it again?
Hernandez is tentatively slotted to start July 15 against the White Sox in Chicago.
Three takeaways from Sunday’s victory:
***Cruzing at 70: Cruz’s two-run homer pushed his league-leading RBI count to 70 and put him in select company. Only six other Mariners have reached 70 RBIs by the All-Star break.
It’s not a career-best for Cruz, though. He had 74 RBIs at the break in 2014 while playing for Baltimore but cooled in the second half and finished with 108 (which is still his career high).
The other Mariners to do it: Ken Griffey Jr. (three times), Bret Boone (twice), Edgar Martinez (twice), Alex Rodriguez (twice), Jay Buhner and Raul Ibanez.
***Vee is for Vincent: Setup relievers rarely garner attention except when they let a lead slip away, but right-hander Nick Vincent is forcing his way into the spotlight.
Vincent worked a scoreless eighth inning Sunday after inheriting a runner at first with no outs. That makes 21 scoreless appearances, covering 20 innings, this season at Safeco Field. Just 12 hits along with 22 strikeouts and two walks
On the road, Vincent is far less proficient: eight runs and 19 hits in 15 2/3 innings over 16 outings. But nearly all of the damage came in three games. Overall, he has a 2.02 ERA.
***Eight and nine so fine: Robinson Cano often cites contributions from the bottom of the lineup as big keys to success. On Sunday, Jarrod Dyson and Chooch Ruiz, the eighth and ninth hitters, were a combined 5-for-5 with a walk.
Ruiz had three singles and raised his average from .194 to .227. Dyson’s two singles and a walk boosted his average to .258 and his on-base percentage to .340. Both are season highs.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners