The Seattle Mariners and their opening-day starter Felix Hernandez(notes) both stumbled after beginning the season strong. Though things looked bleak for a while, both the team and the pitcher have reason to believe they’re turning things around.
Hernandez looks to build on his first win in nearly a month and help the Mariners get a third straight victory for the first time in even longer as they continue a three-game road series against the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night.
Hernandez (5-3, 3.76 ERA) went 4-0 with a 2.38 ERA over his first five starts—all Seattle wins. With him leading the way, the Mariners (23-26) were in first place in the division at 13-8 after Hernandez’s fifth outing.
Things fell apart quickly, however. Seattle lost its next four games started by Hernandez, who was 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA in that stretch. Overall, the Mariners went 7-16 between the right-hander’s win April 28 and Sunday, when Hernandez finally snapped out of his slump with a 5-4 victory over San Francisco.
He gave up four runs—one earned—while striking out a season-high 10 in eight innings.
“I just wanted to go out and throw strikes,” Hernandez said. “The last couple of games, I fell behind a couple of times. I just put in my mind to go out there and throw strikes.”
Now that Hernandez appears to be back on track, the Mariners are also showing signs of improvement. They’ve won consecutive games for the first time since recording three straight victories from April 23-25.
Seattle scored three runs in the third inning and never trailed in a 5-2 win over Los Angeles (24-23) in the series opener Friday night.
Ichiro(notes) Suzuki had two hits, including an RBI single, to extend his hitting streak to 22 games—the third-longest of his career and three shy of his 2007 franchise record. There have been 12 hitting streaks of 20 or more games in Mariners history, and the two-time AL batting champ has seven of them. He’s batting an AL-best .383 on the road in 2009.
The Angels have already lost more games to the Mariners this year than they did all of last season. After going 14-5 in the series in 2008, they’re 5-6 so far in 2009.
However, Los Angeles did hit Hernandez hard in a 6-5 win May 19. Hernandez gave up six runs and 11 hits in 5 2-3 innings, falling to 3-5 with a 5.13 ERA in 13 career starts against the Angels.
Angels designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero(notes) is 13 for 34 (.382) with two homers and seven strikeouts lifetime against Hernandez. The eight-time All-Star and one-time AL MVP, however, is 2 for 16 (.125) without an extra-base hit since spending more than five weeks on the disabled list with a torn pectoral muscle.
Matt Palmer(notes) (5-0, 4.82) will take the mound for the Angels, who hope to remain undefeated in games started by the rookie right-hander. Palmer won his first five starts before failing to last five innings in the Angels’ 10-7 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday. He gave up four runs in 4 2-3 innings in that game, then pitched one inning of relief in the Angels’ 4-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday.
Palmer took advantage of the Angels’ success against Hernandez to win his first start against them last week. He gave up five runs and seven hits in five innings.