In perhaps his last start for the Mariners for the foreseeable future, Felix Hernandez allowed 11 runs (seven earned) thanks to errors by Kyle Seager.
ARLINGTON, Texas — Is this what happens to a former Cy Young winner and face of the Mariners franchise in his final outing before being bounced from the starting rotation?
He finds himself trying to save an overworked bullpen by throwing an extra and unneeded inning of an already lopsided loss only to endure further embarrassment?
Felix Hernandez sat alone in the corner of the visitors’ dugout after what could’ve been his final inning as a member of the Mariners’ rotation for the foreseeable future. His mop of black hair leaked perspiration from the sweltering heat of Globe Life Park, forcing him to bury his face in a towel. His outing vs. the Rangers on Tuesday night had spiraled into an unmitigated disaster of hits, runs and frustration. His third baseman, Kyle Seager, a former Gold Glove winner, aided in the fiasco, making a pair of errors on routine ground balls that led to four unearned runs while Hernandez was on the mound.
Hernandez then collected his glove that he had spiked in anger the inning before, grabbed his hat — which had been flung in disgust — untucked his jersey and walked to the clubhouse. He wouldn’t be in the dugout for the final out of the 11-4 trouncing by the Rangers.
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But where will he be five days from now when the Mariners (65-49) finish up a four-game series with the American League West-leading Astros at Minute Maid Park, a place he has struggled?
“We’ll see,” manager Scott Servais said. “You have to take a look at where we are at going forward. I think the next time that spot comes around we’ll be over in Houston and they’ve also got a good club. We’ve got to give ourselves a chance every time out there to win the ballgame. Our pitching has carried us all season long, but having that chance to stay in the game and having a chance in every game is so key here as we move down the stretch in the last six, seven weeks of the season.”
Five days earlier, Hernandez staved off excommunication from the rotation with a decent outing vs. the Blue Jays, pitching five innings and allowing two runs while taking a no-decision. It earned him this start against the Rangers. But it didn’t earn him permanence. It seemed as though his spot in the rotation was tenuous at best, being evaluated from start to start.
And nothing about his showing against the Rangers should provide reasoning to give him another opportunity. He pitched a total of six innings, giving up 11 runs (seven earned) on eight hits with four walks and two strikeouts. He had minimal life on his pitches and even less command. And when things started to go awry, he had no ability to adjust and stop it from happening.
“I lost my command after the first two innings,” he said. “I was just leaving everything in the middle and making a lot of mistakes. That’s it. You’ve seen the results.”
Hernandez looked broken postgame. The once invincible King Felix has realized his pitching mortality after being in denial for much of the last three seasons.
“What can I say?” he said. “I can’t say anything. I’m frustrated. It’s all I can say.”
Still this decision will be evaluated well beyond this one awful outing. This has been building throughout an inconsistent 2018 season that has seen too many lost outings and too few quality starts. Only eight of his 23 starts have gone six innings or more, and just two have gone at least seven complete innings. This was the eighth outing he allowed four runs or more.
“It’s about the process of where we are at and his ability to keep executing pitches,” Servais said. “We’ll see where we are at and continue to talk about it and move on from there.”
With Erasmo Ramirez seemingly healthy and ready to return from the disabled list, the Mariners could replace Hernandez or even adjust the rotation and skip Hernandez for at least one start, if not indefinitely. Because of the value of roster spots, a stint on the disabled list is also a possibility.
His teammates handed him a three-run lead and he gave it all back and more in the bottom of the third.
“We were off to a good start in this game and it turned on us,” Servais said.
A four-pitch walk to Robinson Chirinos started his problems and led to a bases-loaded situation with no outs. Shin-Soo Choo plated a run with a soft ground ball to first in which Hernandez rolled his ankle while covering first base. After talking with Servais and athletic trainer Matt Toth and throwing a few warm-up pitches, Hernandez remained in the game. He immediately served up a two-run double to Rougned Odor that tied the score and a RBI single to Elvis Andrus that gave the Rangers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“My ankle was fine,” he said. “That wasn’t the problem.”
The issues with Seager’s glove led to the next four runs scoring.
Seager’s first error in the fourth inning led to a sacrifice fly from Willie Calhoun.
His second error on a similar ground ball came an inning later with two outs. Instead of being out of the inning, Hernandez had to face Jurickson Profar with runners on the corners. The result was a three-run homer to deep right-center, making it 8-4.
“It was three ground balls really,” Seager said. “There’s not too many things that make me more upset than the errors. It’s not good. It can’t happen. I was just bad tonight and didn’t catch them. Those are three plays that absolutely should’ve been made. And it pretty much cost Felix five extra outs, that’s hard to do.”
When the inning was finally over, Seager approached Hernandez in the dugout, putting his arm around him. The conversation was brief, but Hernandez nodded and patted Seager on the rear.
“Talking to him was the easy part,” Seager said. “I messed it up. I told him he was out there battling for us and he made some good pitches to get ground balls. It’s something that can’t happen and I have to do better than that.”
Since the Mariners burned through their bullpen in Monday night’s 12-inning win, Hernandez had to “wear” the outing and go back out for another inning that was needed, but should’ve been avoided.
“His pitch count was in good shape and it was just a matter of keeping the ball down and keeping it in the ballpark,” Servais said. “Defensively we had some plays that we typically make and we didn’t make, which didn’t help things out.”
If it was his last inning as a starter this season, the sixth was one to forget. He issued a one-out walk to Choo and gave up a two-run homer to Odor that made it 10-4. With two outs, Adrian Beltre, his closest friend in baseball, smashed a solo homer to deep-center to make it 11-4. The only reason that it wasn’t a two-run homer was Cameron Maybin’s brilliant wall-smashing grab in center on a deep drive from Andrus.
“I was just trying to put a zero and I couldn’t do it,” Hernandez said.
The Mariners grabbed a quick 2-0 lead in impressive fashion against Rangers starter Bartolo Colon. Nelson Cruz smashed his 30th home run of the season to start the second inning. It was his fourth straight season with 30 or more homers in a season for Seattle. Only Ken Griffey Jr., who hit 30-plus in six straight seasons, had accomplished the feat.
Similar to a few days ago against the Blue Jays, Seager followed with a solo homer to deep right field.
The lead was pushed to 3-0 an inning later. Dee Gordon led off with a standup triple to right-center and scored easily on Denard Span’s one-out triple over the head of center fielder Carlos Tocci.