The drab defeat ended an eight-game winning streak and dropped Seattle to 78-67 and three games back in the American League wild card race.
The ball was handed off quickly and without protest. Felix Hernandez was done. This couldn’t be fixed or righted, not with his command and not against this team. There was no use in trying to fight to remain in the game.
Head down and disappointed, he walked with his gaze fixed at his feet all the way to the dugout. There wasn’t much in the way of either applause or booing. Most of the 30,178 fans at Safeco Field grumbled with discomfort at what they had just seen.
Misplaced pitches, innings filled with base runners, hits and runs had overwhelmed the hope for a night of magic in one of the few truly important outings of Hernandez’s career.
Astros @ Mariners, 6:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
Everything that the Mariners had done to get to the importance of Friday night with its postseason implications — starting pitching giving them a chance to win, quality at-bats leading to base runners and passels of runs and overall clean play — were absent in a 6-0 loss to the Houston Astros.
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“That was a bad ballgame,” manager Scott Servais said. “We didn’t pitch very well and the defense was not good.”
The drab defeat ended an eight-game winning streak and dropped Seattle to 78-69 and three games back in the American League wild-card race. For the third time this season, the Mariners came into a game with their record 10 games over .500 — and all three times they’ve lost.
“It’s frustrating,” Servais said. “We’ve been playing really good ball and then we come in here and throw a clunker out there. It’s not exactly what we were looking for tonight. It does happen. I do know one thing about our team — we will show up tomorrow, wipe this one off as quick as we can and get after it.”
Seattle’s issues Friday started with the Mariners’ ace.
Hernandez has had three ultra-meaningful starts in his lengthy career counting Friday. The first two came in 2014. On Sept. 23 that year with the Mariners having lost three in a row and fighting for a wild-card chance, Hernandez gave up eight runs (four earned) in 42/3 innings in a 10-2 loss to Toronto. And those unearned runs were a result of his throwing error.
But on the final day of the 2014 season with the Mariners in a must-win scenario in hopes of forcing a playoff game with the A’s to earn a wild card, Hernandez pitched 51/3 shutout innings, allowing just one hit against the Angels before getting lifted after the A’s clinched a wild-card spot with a win in Texas.
But his start against the Astros looked more like the loss against Toronto. He pitched 41/3 innings, giving up six runs (five earned) on eight hits with three walks and three strikeouts.
“It’s disappointing,” he said. “It was a poor performance by me. I have to make better pitches than I did tonight.”
Some might use a first-glance analysis lamenting his inability to pitch in big games despite the minimal sample size. Besides being somewhat illogical, it would also overlook the larger issue that hurt him in this loss — Hernandez has had command problems all season and for large parts of last season because of mechanical breakdowns. Neither is dependent on the Mariners’ place in the standings or postseason race.
“Sometimes they’re there and sometimes they’re not,” he said. “I have to find myself right from the start of the game.”
That wandering command has left Hernandez, the Mariners and their fans shaking their head in frustration. The inconsistency was an issue from the start of Friday’s game. For every crisp, commanded strike there were at least two to three pitches that resembled nothing of their intent or purpose.
“These guys hit the fastball and if you can’t land your secondary pitches and get them going back and forth, it’s going to be a long night,” Servais said.
Hernandez’s sinker was particularly mediocre, leaking over the plate and lacking crisp movement. The four extra-base hits he gave up all scored runs: two doubles and two homers that came on sinkers.
“They kept coming back to the middle of the plate,” he said.
And while there will certainly be debate and derision among fans about the future of Hernandez, the Mariners’ offense — or lack thereof — cannot be overlooked.
Astros starter Collin McHugh proved once against to masterful against the Mariners and middling vs. most other teams. McHugh tossed seven shutout innings, allowing two hits with two walks and six strikeouts to improve to 11-10. The Mariners hit about two hard balls off him. In four starts against the Mariners, he’s 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA, 24 strikeouts and eight walks in 25 innings.
“We just don’t seem to see the ball well against him,” Servais said.
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