Felix Hernandez looked in regular-season form as the Mariners rallied from a 4-2 deficit in the ninth inning to beat the White Sox 5-4 Friday in Peoria.
PEORIA, Ariz. — It was a day Felix Hernandez offered proof to his statement that he is “right where I want to be’’ as the regular season nears for Mariners.
So why shouldn’t he be right where he wants to be in the clubhouse, as well?
After pitching six shutouts innings against the Chicago White Sox on Friday in his best performance of spring training, Hernandez made a request of the waiting media.
“Mind if I sit?’’ Hernandez asked.
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Once settled in his chair, Hernandez said besides his changeup that didn’t always go where he wanted, he felt at home on the mound in allowing just four hits and no runs against the White Sox in an eventual 5-4 Seattle win at Peoria Stadium.
Hernandez felt good enough that he answered yes when asked if he wanted to pitch six innings instead of five. He threw 80 pitches.
“We’re getting close to opening day, so it means a lot,’’ Hernandez said. The Mariners open the season April 4 against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas.
Few worry much about how Hernandez does in the spring at this point in his career.
But for a Mariners pitching staff that has been more often than not lit up by opponents this spring, it’s comforting to see Hernandez look like his usual self.
Hernandez said his fastball was the best it has been with “good command on both sides of the plate.’’ He liked his slider as well. His changeup was a little rough, he said. But he ended his outing on a high note with that pitch, using it to get a third strike on Jose Abreu.
Abreu caused Hernandez the most trouble, with a double with two outs in the first and a single with two outs in the third. Hernandez also allowed a double to Travis Ishikawa in the fourth and two singles in the second (one a dribbler back to the mount that Hernandez fielded, then decided not to throw). Hernandez needed 22 pitches to get through that inning, at which point throwing six innings seemed likely to be a stretch.
“We were a little worried early; his pitch count was up a little bit in the first couple of innings,’’ Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “But he had an easy fifth and got through the sixth right at 80 pitches, which is exactly what we wanted to get today.”
It was a performance that didn’t elicit many questions. So one writer, fishing for something, asked Hernandez if everything is good in his world right now.
“Why?’’ Hernandez replied somewhat incredulously. “I just throw six innings.’’
And for eight innings it was a typical Hernandez start in another way, as well, as a balky Mariner offense and bullpen seemed destined to waste his performance.
Seattle trailed 4-2 entering the bottom of the ninth thanks to a seventh-inning grand slam by former Mariner Austin Jackson and an offense that to that point had just two hits.
But Robinson Cano led off the ninth with a double, Nelson Cruz followed with a home run to tie it, and Leonys Martin’s solo shot won it in the 10th.
It was a game Servais labeled as “crazy’’ in the way that it ended and “normal’’ in the way that it was played, with most of the Mariners regulars going all nine inning to replicate a regular-season game and the score more resembling what might be seen in April, as well, after Seattle’s previous two games featured a combined 43 runs.
“It was nice to come back like this,’’ Servais said.
He was particularly happy for Martin, one of the key players in the Mariners’ makeover this offseason. The home run lifted Martin’s average to .190 for the spring.
But Servais said that number couldn’t be more misleading.
“He’s actually hit the ball very well,’’ Servais said. “He’s hit a lot of hard balls and doesn’t have a lot of hits to show for it. So I’m happy to see him (get rewarded). He smoked that ball. That ball was crushed.’’
- Former Seahawk Boyer talks to Mariners: Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret turned football long snapper who had a stint in training camp with the Seahawks a year ago, spoke to the Mariners on Friday and threw the first pitch before the game.“I think it’s an opportunity to bring different people from different backgrounds in to deliver a message about teamwork and discipline and sacrifice and being a servant and leadership and all those things,’’ Servais said in Friday morning. “I’ve never heard him speak before, but I’m looking forward to it. The timing of it is very good, I’ve run a lot of meetings this spring, and it’s always good to bring some new people in to spice it up a little.”
- Gutierrez plays, Marte sits: The flu bug that has gone through the team continues to persist but also appears to be running its course. Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez returned to action Friday and had one of Seattle’s five hits. Shortstop Ketel Marte didn’t play but worked out before the game and is expected to play Saturday against the Dodgers.
- Sardinas impresses: Shortstop Luis Sardinas, likely to be the team’s utility infielder, helped set up Seattle’s 10th inning win with a heady play in the top of the inning when he threw home on a bases-loaded grounder with one out. The play got the second out of the inning, and the Mariners escaped without allowing a run. “Great head’s-up play by Sardinas,’’ Servais said. “Most guys would just go ahead and take one out there (meaning throw to first). But he knows that’s kind of the game on the line and awesome, awesome head’s-up play.’’