The Mariners ace hurts himself with three walks in one decisive inning at Safeco Field.
His head shook in disgust and his gaze was straight at the turf of Safeco Field as he sauntered to the Mariners dugout.
Felix Hernandez knew his outing was done, and there was no chance for a victory.
A frustrating and uncharacteristic sixth inning that featured a tweak to his bothersome left ankle and three walks — yes, three walks — led to two runs and turned a tied game into a 4-2 defeat Saturday against Boston.
Boston @ Mariners, 1:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
So about the ankle?
“I’m not sure if it didn’t affect his command after that,” said Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon. “He wasn’t the same after that.”
Hernandez was sure the ankle wasn’t the problem with his command.
“Not at all, not at all,” he said. “The whole game I fell behind a lot of times. My command wasn’t there.”
Hernandez was trying to start the season 7-0, trying to tie the club record set by Aaron Sele in 2001. He also was trying to follow up on the dramatic walkoff victory Friday. Instead, the Mariners dropped to 16-20 and 7½ games back of the Houston Astros in the American League West.
Hernandez’s normal pinpoint command, particularly with the fastball, would appear for stretches, but fade in others. Every pitcher deals with it from start to start, and Hernandez adapts and adjusts better than most. Still, a misplaced pitch to Boston’s collection of mashers can lead to trouble, such as solo homers to Pablo Sandoval and David Ortiz.
Meanwhile, the Mariners’ offense consisted basically of hot-hitting Brad Miller, who provided the only scoring with a pair of solo homers of his own off Red Sox starter Rick Porcello. Not bad considering Miller had never faced Porcello before.
“It’s just getting in there with the right mentality and really being ready to go when you step in the box,” Miller said. “Know what you are looking for and let it fly.”
Miller’s second homer of the game in the bottom of the fifth tied the game at 2-2 and re-energized the crowd of 45,055 — still 30 percent Boston fans.
Normally, Hernandez feeds off such emotion and gets stronger. But the shutdown inning never followed.
On the second pitch to Sandoval, the leadoff hitter for the sixth inning, Hernandez came up wincing in pain with a tweaked ankle. Catcher Jesus Sucre immediately went to the mound and McClendon and trainer Rob Nodine joined the meeting.
After Hernandez said, “I’m fine,” multiple times, McClendon allowed him to stay in the game. Hernandez might have felt fine, but his command, as it had been much of the night, wasn’t.
He retired Sandoval on a ground ball to second, but he walked Xander Bogaerts and Daniel Nava in succession. Blake Swihart followed with a single to left-center to score Bogaerts and make it 3-2. To add to his struggles, Hernandez then walked Jackie Bradley Jr., who hasn’t registered a hit this season and hit .198 last year. It was just the eighth time in his career that he’d walked three batters in an inning.
Hernandez refused to use the ankle excuse when pressed.
“Not the ankle, it was me and my mechanics,” he said. “I was opening up too quick in that inning. The walks were frustrating. That’s not me.”
Giving away an almost sure out in Bradley proved costly. Brock Holt hit a hard ground ball to first base that Logan Morrison made a nice diving stop on to get the out at first. But it was only the second out of the inning and a run scored to make it 4-2. Hernandez finally brought the inning to a close, getting Dustin Pedroia to ground out to Chris Taylor, who made a nifty play and running throw to first for the third out.
McClendon stayed with Hernandez, believing his ace would get the command back.
“I trust him, he’s my guy,” McClendon said. “I trusted that he would get us out of that inning.”
Miller’s fifth career multihomer game stood out as the few positives for a Mariners’ offense that was held to five hits. Porcello went 62/3 innings, giving up the two runs on five hits with six strikeouts and two walks.