Hernandez worked eight scoreless innings, allowing just three hits with four walks and eight strikeouts. Cruz became the fourth player in Mariners history to hit 40 homers in a season and the first since Alex Rodriguez in 2000.
They didn’t get the sweep that would have propelled them back into the postseason discussion. But after dropping the first two games of a once-hopeful four-game series against Texas, the Mariners did salvage a split.
For the second consecutive game, Mariners pitchers held the Rangers scoreless and the offense provided more than enough run support in a 5-0 victory Thursday at Safeco Field.
It was the first time the Rangers had been shut out in back-to-back games in the same season since July 27-28, 2013, in Cleveland.
Colorado @ Mariners, 7:10 p.m., ROOT
Starter Felix Hernandez did the bulk of the work.
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The Mariners ace worked eight scoreless innings, allowing just three hits with four walks and eight strikeouts to improve to 17-8. The 17 wins are tied for the most in the American League and his most since he notched 19 in 2007.
It was the second consecutive start of eight innings for Hernandez, who skipped a start before his previous outing to strengthen him for the final month of the season.
“You mean since I was a dummy for skipping him,” manager Lloyd McClendon deadpanned. “Yeah, he’s better. He was better last year when we did it. He had his best September ever. It’s something we like to do with all of our pitchers. I think it’s the smart thing to do.”
Hernandez didn’t enjoy the break, but he has downplayed its importance without criticizing it.
“It’s not a coincidence, but I’m just trying to go out and do my job every day,” he said.
He credits the recent run of good outings to a few minor mechanical changes.
“Can you notice?” he said. “I’m just trying to stay closed. I’m trying to follow through to home plate and not open up. When I open too soon, the ball stays up and stays flat.”
Not many pitches stayed flat Thursday. The Rangers had 17 swings that missed.
The Rangers didn’t have many scoring threats, despite the four walks and the three hits allowed. Hernandez worked around them, allowing just one runner to reach second base. Mitch Moreland led off the second inning with a double but did not advance.
Entering the season, Hernandez had lost his previous five starts to the Rangers. This season he’s 4-0 with a 1.57 ERA in four starts against Texas.
Though the Mariners (68-73) needed only one run for a victory, they scored five off Rangers starter Derek Holland. That’s an accomplishment considering Holland entered the game 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA in his previous four starts with 25 strikeouts in 291/3 innings.
The Mariners got to Holland with two outs in the first inning. Playing in his first game since Sept. 2 because of a quad strain, Nelson Cruz singled sharply up the middle in his first at-bat. Robinson Cano followed with a double to left field, putting runners on second and third for Mark Trumbo.
After going 4 for 4 in Wednesday night’s win, Trumbo delivered again, ripping a low line drive just inside the right-field line for a two-run double.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” Trumbo said. “(Holland is) always aggressive, especially early in the game where he’s coming right at you. So I just figured why not counter with a little bit of aggression on my side.”
It extended Trumbo’s hitting streak to a career-high 12 games. Since July 4, Trumbo is hitting .318 (61 for 192) with nine doubles, 11 homers and 31 RBI in 54 games.
It looked as though the Mariners would muster just those two runs against Holland, who settled down to work the next five innings scoreless with just three hits allowed. But the Mariners broke through in the seventh inning, sparked by the unlikeliest of candidates.
Jesus Sucre, hitting .118 entering Thursday, led off with a ground-rule double — his sixth extra-base hit of the season. The Mariners then went into manufacture mode. Shawn O’Malley bunted Sucre to third. And after a fouled-off suicide-squeeze attempt, Ketel Marte lined a single up the middle through the drawn-in infield to make it 3-0.
Cruz made his return to the lineup felt again, going with a first-pitch sinker over the outside part of the plate and driving it over the right-field wall for a two-run homer.
It was Cruz’s 40th home run of the season. He’s the fourth player in Mariners history to hit 40 homers in a season and the first since Alex Rodriguez in 2000.
“He’s pretty good,” McClendon said of Cruz with a smile.