After missing nearly a month, the ace of the Mariners takes the mound Tuesday night against the AL West rival Angels at Safeco Field.
Hernandez (2-1, 1.56 ERA) was dominant in his first two starts, allowing just four hits and striking out 18 over 17 scoreless innings. But on April 18 against the Minnesota Twins, the 20-year-old Venezuelan right-hander felt a twinge in his elbow after facing just five batters, allowing two runs and two walks in one-third of an inning.
“There was a little tightness, but I thought it would loosen up the more I threw,” Hernandez told the Mariners’ official Web site. “It didn’t. That last slider I threw, it was different than anything I’d ever felt, so I called the trainer. I’d never felt that in my elbow, but I didn’t think it was going to be that bad.
“I don’t know why. It could have been worse, but I didn’t think about it.”
With the Mariners (17-16) having alternated wins and losses in their last seven games, and entering this contest just two games behind the division-leading Angels (22-17), manager Mike Hargrove is more than ready for the return of his ace.
“Anytime you get the pitcher who has the best stuff on your staff back, it always is a comforting thought,” Hargrove said. “We have missed Felix, and having him back really helps. It’s nice to be whole again.”
Despite the expectations surrounding Hernandez’s return, the young right-hander simply wants to have an efficient outing and give his team a chance to win.
“I’ve tried not to think about Tuesday and the Angels,” Hernandez said. “I try to keep it basic. I want to throw strikes low in the strike zone. I want to throw my sinker, maybe get outs quicker in the count. I’d like to go five, six innings—maybe seven. I don’t know what they have in mind for me, but it’s probably not seven innings.”
Hernandez’s return couldn’t come at a better time for the Mariners, whose pitching staff faltered in a three-game sweep by the Angels from April 20-22. Los Angeles hit .356 (37-for-104) in the three victories, notching 14 extra-base hits and 21 runs.
The Mariners are coming off a 2-1 victory Sunday over the New York Yankees. Seattle won two of three games in the weekend series despite totaling just seven runs.
After winning three of four games at Texas, capped by Monday’s 7-2 victory, the Angels will send their hottest pitcher to the mound in Kelvim Escobar (4-1, 2.21). The right-hander is trying to match a career high by winning his fourth consecutive start, and is coming off his fourth career shutout, a seven-hitter with a season-high nine strikeouts and no walks Thursday against Cleveland.
“I stayed within myself the whole time, making good pitches,” said Escobar of his 103-pitch effort. “If I can move my fastball around like that, I’m going to get a lot of people out because my secondary pitches are good, and I can keep the hitters off balance.”
Escobar, whose only other four-start winning streak came from Aug. 27-Sept. 13, 1998, in his first year as a starter with Toronto, has limited opponents to three runs and 17 hits in 23 2-3 innings during his run.
He is 5-7 with three saves and a 4.66 ERA in 14 starts and 27 overall appearances versus the Mariners.
Angels right fielder Vladimir Guerrero is a .367 (36-for-98) lifetime hitter at Safeco Field with six homers and 22 RBIs, and is 4-for-14 (.286) lifetime against Hernandez.