SEATTLE (AP)—Felix Hernandez might not be back to being a star after just one outing.
Hernandez, the 20-year-old would-be phenom who has lost 20 pounds since a disappointing 2006 season, thoroughly dominated the defending AL West champion Oakland Athletics in a 4-0 victory Monday. The major leagues’ youngest opening day pitcher in 22 years allowed three hits and struck out a career-high 12 in eight innings.
Hernandez tamed the same team that won 17 of 19 games last season against Seattle, crushing the Mariners back to the bottom of the division for the third consecutive year.
“That’s as good as I’ve ever seen him—but in my mind, that’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s got that good of stuff,” said Mariners outfielder Raul Ibanez, who has seen Hernandez start 44 times since the right-hander came up in 2005.
“It was the same as the vibes I got from him when he first came up,” said All-Star Ichiro Suzuki, who scored the game’s first run in the sixth inning— the only run Hernandez (1-0) needed.
Only two pitchers in the last 14 years have struck out more to begin a season. Martinez had 12 to start the Mets’ 2005. And Johnson started Seattle’s 1993 and ’96 seasons with 14 strikeouts.
The youngest opening day starter since a 20-year-old Gooden in 1985, threw 97 mph fastballs anywhere he wanted. Last season, they went just about everywhere he didn’t want.
“Felix was about as electric as I’ve ever seen anybody,” said J.J. Putz, who followed Hernandez with a scoreless ninth inning.
This was no regular game for Hernandez. He replaced his normal, slow, gunslinger walk off the mound at the end of innings with rousing screams, fist pumps and glove slaps.
“I was excited,” Hernandez said, laughing. “In the offseason, I worked for this,” with a diet of primarily rice, along with daily sprints and weight training in his native Venezuela.
“I told the team, `Give me one run, we win.”’
Crosby, playing in his first game since last Aug. 21 following chronic back pain, made his second error of the game when he took his eye off of Haren’s throw at second base while trying to turn a potential inning-ending double-play.
“I screwed it up for all of us,” Crosby said.
That’s because Sexson then lifted a low 1-1 pitch from Haren into the shrubs just above the top of the center-field wall, after Ibanez’s sacrifice fly scored Ichiro Suzuki with the game’s first run. After the pitch, Haren threw up both hands, disgusted that he missed with a slider to a man he had retired 17 times in 18 at-bats.
Hernandez threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 29 batters he faced, after having control problems throughout his 12-14 season last year. That was as many losses as he had in his first three professional seasons.
So what was Hernandez’s reaction to his spectacular outing?
“Actually, I’ve got more,” he said with a wry smile.
The A’s—and the rest of the American League—hope not.
“(He’s) got unbelievable stuff,” marveled rookie right fielder Travis Buck.
And Buck got the only extra-base hit off Hernandez.
The 23-year-old rookie from Richland, Wash., who had 20 family members screaming for him from a few rows behind home plate, led off the sixth with a double that thudded off the bottom of the center-field wall on a fly. Mark Ellis’ sacrifice bunt moved Buck to third.
But Hernandez then struck out Jason Kendall for the third time on a 97-mph fastball high and inside before Shannon Stewart flailed at an 0-2 split-fingered pitch that bounced in front of the plate. As the sold-out crowd roared, Hernandez yelled. He then pumped his first three times, slapped his glove and then wildly slapped the hand of catcher Kenji Johjima.
After the Mariners used the pick-me-up for their four-run sixth, Oakland had two on and one out with Eric Chavez’s single in the seventh. But Hernandez struck out Nick Swisher on another fastball at 97 and then shook off Johjima, who wanted a slider, and settled on a 96-mph fastball that froze Crosby into watching another third strike.
Hernandez yelled again and thrust both arms into his sides after his 11th strikeout.
Haren allowed four runs and four hits in six innings of his first career opening day start. He walked one and struck out two. … Sexson has six hits in 33 at-bats in nine career opening days. Five of those hits are home runs. .. Oakland DH Mike Piazza went 0-for-4 in his A’s debut, after 1,829 games in the NL. … Oakland’s other rookie, RHP Jay Marshall, made his major league debut by getting one out in the eighth.