Hernandez allowed four runs on two homers in the first two innings, but settled down and got help from his offense as Seattle won for the fifth time in its last seven games.
PITTSBURGH — It’s easy to recount all the times Felix Hernandez had brilliant outings ruined by lack of run support over the years. It’s become a frustrating meme for the Mariners and their fans that has been built with each squandered gem.
But there have been times when Hernandez has been anything but regal on the mound and needed more than a little help from his friends.
Unlike past seasons, this year the Mariners actually have the offensive firepower to do it. Seattle shrugged off a sluggish start from Hernandez, rallying from an early three-run deficit and rolling to a 7-4 win over the Pirates on Tuesday night at PNC Park.
M’s @ Pirates, 4:05 p.m., ROOT
The Mariners (51-48) have won five of their last seven games.
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“He gave us a chance, and our offense was really the story of tonight’s game,” manager Scott Servais said. “Felix will get better. He’s got to come out better in the first inning, though, because we aren’t going to be able to bail him out every night.”
Still looking like a pitcher that had missed two months on the disabled list, Hernandez trudged his way through six innings, giving up the four runs on nine hits with a walk and three strikeouts to improve to 5-4.
“I didn’t have good mechanics at all,” he said. “I was missing a lot of pitches in the middle of the plate in the first three innings.”
In just his second big-league start since returning from the disabled list, Hernandez had meandering command and struggled to get ahead.
“I didn’t have any feel with my pitches,” he said. “I had no curveball today, slider was OK, changeup was up, fastball was up. It’s what you get when you’ve been out for a long time.”
The frustration was evident during the game and after.
“I’m not that kind of pitcher out there,” he said. “Four runs in the first two innings, I had to make an adjustment.”
It’s not a matter of health. There are no issues with the calf, his arm or any part of his body.
“I feel fine,” he said. “I’ve got no problems at all. I just have to get out of the middle of the plate. I just need to pitch a little bit more and I’ll be better.”
And yet, he still looked better than Pirates starter Francisco Liriano, who made it just 31/3 innings, giving up seven runs on eight hits with four walks and three strikeouts.
Hernandez got off to a very shaky start. After missing with a borderline 2-2 fastball on the inside corner for ball three, he served up a hittable sinker on the outside of the plate on the full count to Gregory Polanco, who drove the pitch over the wall in center for a solo homer. Hernandez gave up two more runs in the inning on an RBI double by Starling Marte and a fielder’s-choice RBI by Jung-Ho Kang to make 3-0.
Seattle cut into the lead with an RBI double from Leonys Martin in the top of the second that scored Seager.
But in perhaps the most noticeable sign of his poor command on the night, Hernandez left a 2-1 sinker over the middle to Liriano. After years of bragging about hitting a grand slam off Johan Santana in 2008, Hernandez got to feel the sting of a fellow pitcher hitting a homer off him. Liriano blasted the homer over the wall in center. The solo shot was the first homer Hernandez had allowed to a pitcher in his career. It gave Pittsburgh a 4-1 lead.
“He got me pretty good,” Hernandez said. “He’s a pretty good friend of mine. He’s a good hitter.”
Down 4-1 just two innings into the game, Seattle’s hitters made the erratic Liriano work. They didn’t succumb to early swings and easy counts.
Instead, the Mariners tied the score in the top of the third. Franklin Gutierrez muscled his 10th homer of the season to right. With two outs, Dae-Ho Lee singled up the middle and Kyle Seager followed with his 20th homer of the season. The two-run line drive into the right-field seats was Seager’s sixth homer against a left-handed pitcher this season.
Seattle broke the 4-4 tie and knocked Liriano out of the game in the top of the fourth. Shawn O’Malley doubled home Martin to give Seattle a 5-4 lead. The Mariners continued to add on. Robinson Cano singled home O’Malley to make it 6-4 and end Liriano’s outing. Nelson Cruz added an RBI on a ground ball to shortstop to make it 7-4.
“He has walked a bunch of guys this year and we knew that going into the game,” Servais said. “Our guys were prepared offensively.”
To his credit, after the early troubles, Hernandez’s final four innings were scoreless, but far from perfect. He allowed runners to reach base in each of those innings and multiple runners in three of them. But some solid defense, a key replay out at second base, a generous strike zone from plate umpire David Rackley and few key pitches allowed him to escape each of the jams.
Closer Steve Cishek had the most non-dramatic inning of the night, working a 1-2-3 ninth for his 24th save of the season.