Felix Hernandez strikes out 10, allows three hits in seven scoreless innings, but lack of offense, poor effort by bullpen lead to Oakland’s 2-1 victory in 10 innings. Coco Crisp’s homer in the 10th provided the difference.
First-year Mariners manager Scott Servais had a decision to make.
It was the end of the seventh inning, the Mariners nursing a one-run lead Sunday against the A’s, and his ace, Felix Hernandez, had just walked off the mound having thrown his 99th pitch to record his 10th strikeout.
Here was Servais’ dilemma: Does he send Hernandez, who had retired 10 straight, out for the eighth inning and push his pitch count? Or does he turn it over to the bullpen and limit Hernandez’s heavy workload early in another season?
Texas @ Seattle, 7:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
After a discussion with his staff and Hernandez, Servais opted to take Hernandez out.
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“We didn’t know if he’d have enough to get through the next inning, so I thought at that point, it was probably best to go with somebody else,” Servais said.
He went with reliever Joel Peralta, who promptly gave up a solo home run to the first batter he faced in the eighth inning (It’s worth noting that Servais said reliever Joaquin Benoit was unavailable to pitch).
One run shouldn’t be the Mariners’ margin for error, but the offense stalled yet again, and Coco Crisp’s solo homer in the 10th inning off reliever Nick Vincent was enough to sink the Mariners, 2-1, for their third straight loss. They are 2-4 this season.
Hernandez said he didn’t fight the decision to exit after seven innings.
“We talked about it,” he said. “It’s early in the season. It’s my second start, and I had 99 pitches. They don’t want me to throw 114 (pitches) in my second start.”
He added of his discussion with Servais, “He asked me how I felt, and I said, ‘I’m almost there.’ ”
An ace shoulders many responsibilities, and a king even more. So Hernandez has always accepted the pressure of being his team’s stopper during hard times.
“That’s my job,” Hernandez said last year. “I’m the ace and when we need a win, it’s my job to go out there and get it done.”
Usually that meant halting losing streaks, of which there have been plenty during his career. But this was more about avoiding disappointment — and a sweep — during the team’s first homestand of a new season.
After issuing an abnormally high five walks in his first start, Hernandez was sharp this time around. He struck out 10, using his changeup to devastating effect. He walked only two.
He got in a jam when he loaded the bases in the third inning, but struck out cleanup hitter Stephen Vogt to squash the rebellion. After that flirtation with danger, everything came easy.
“Felix was at the top of his game,” Servais said. “It was fun to watch.”
It’s also what complicated Servais’ decision.
“We had a plan going in,” Servais said. “We talked about it, and I think we all agreed that was the best direction at that time.”
The offense scored just five runs all series, and the Mariners scored their only run on Sunday thanks to an Oakland error. It was another wasted start from Hernandez.
“He had a great outing,” Servais said. “I can’t say enough about the way he competed and finished off hitters.”
Had the offense done more, the decision to take out Hernandez barely registers. But that’s the way it goes when the offense struggles.