Felix Hernandez is starting to find the version of himself that has been largely absent since his return from the disabled list.
He knows he’s close. You can see it when he unleashes a sinking changeup where the bottom falls out just as the hitter thinks he’s made contact. It’s noticeable when he snaps off a biting curveball that buckles the knees of a hitter.
Felix Hernandez is starting to find the version of himself that has been largely absent since his return from the disabled list and wasn’t readily apparent even in some of his early starts before the late-May calf injury shelved him for a month.
And the Mariners? Well, they now have won eight consecutive home games with an 8-2 drubbing of the Brewers on a warm Saturday evening at Safeco Field. Seattle improved to 66-56 and has won 12 of its past 15 games. It’s the first time the team has been 10 games over .500 since May 25 (28-18).
Milwaukee @ Mariners, 1:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
And remember that five-game home losing streak to start the season, and the cries of not being able to play well at Safeco? Well, over their past 36 home games, the Mariners are 25-11.
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With Baltimore’s defeat against Houston on Saturday, the Mariners sit one game behind the Orioles for a wild-card playoff spot.
“It’s been amazing,” Hernandez said. “We’re playing together. We are doing the little things and playing good baseball.”
But Hernandez returning to all-star form for the final stretch run could be a difference-maker that pushes Seattle over the top.
“He’s rounding into Felix form,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “It lifts your team up, no doubt.”
For the first seven innings Saturday, Hernandez held the Brewers scoreless, allowing just four hits and striking out six batters. His changeup and curveball were sharp and his fastball command was pinpoint.
“I’m getting better every time out there,” Hernandez said. “After the first two innings, everything clicked. I feel really good. My arm feels good. My legs feel fine. I’m good.”
Mike Zunino has caught Hernandez at his best. And he can see the signs.
“He’s really close,” Zunino said. “The way his changeup is coming out and the way he’s commanding the fastball. This is as good as I’ve seen him in a long time. His mechanics are clean.”
If not for a circuitous route to a double over his head by Shawn O’Malley in right field, the numbers might have been even better and Hernandez might have tried for the complete game.
Up 4-0 in the eighth, Hernandez gave up a leadoff single to Martin Maldonado, who then advanced to second on a wild pitch. Hernandez retired the next two batters and looked like he might escape with the shutout intact. Ryan Braun, however, jumped on a first-pitch changeup and laced it into the right-center gap.
“I made a couple of bad pitches,” Hernandez admitted.
O’Malley, who had replaced Seth Smith to start the inning, retreated, hesitated and then tried to jump for it, but he had no luck.
“I was playing a little shallow,” he said. “I had a good read on it at first, but I cut my angle too short. By the time I tried to make an adjustment, I had my body in an awkward position.”
Hernandez allowed another run on a run-scoring single to Hernan Perez to make it 4-2, but he came back to strike out Chris Carter to end the inning and his evening.
The eight innings tied a season-high. He struck out eight batters and walked just one to improve to 8-4 on the season.
This time there was no late-inning drama with closer Edwin Diaz unavailable. The Mariners made it a non-save situation for the bullpen, answering with four runs in the bottom of the eighth. Adam Lind had a run-scoring double and Mike Zunino drove in two runs with a double to highlight the inning.
“It’s something we haven’t done that often,” Servais said. “We need to keep putting the pressure on late in the game.”
The rejuvenated bat of Norichika Aoki provided the Mariners’ early offense. Aoki went 3 for 5 with two doubles and two RBI.
“He was this close to getting five hits tonight,” Servais said. “He’s been very good since he’s been back.”
|AL wild-card standings|
|The top two wild-card teams make the postseason and play in a one-game playoff.|