SEATTLE (AP)—Felix Hernandez was worried he’d never regain the form he had in early April, before a forearm injury knocked him out for a month.
The Pirates were shut out for the second straight game and the eighth time this season, most in the major leagues. They haven’t scored in 20 innings.
“Geez, I was worried,” Hernandez said with a wry smile. “I wanted to throw a good game to keep the confidence up.”
Hernandez said this was by far the best he’s felt in seven starts since returning from a month on the disabled list on May 15.
“He was filthy,” said Nate McLouth, who had one of the six hits off the 21-year-old ace.
Ichiro Suzuki had two more hits for the Mariners, who won again following a six-game losing streak. Suzuki’s single during an 11-pitch at-bat against John Van Benschoten in the fifth inning drove in the game’s first run and extended his hitting streak to 16 games, the longest current one in the majors. Suzuki has at least one hit in 41 of his last 43 games.
One night after Jeff Weaver’s startling four-hitter and first win of the season, Hernandez (4-4) struck out nine and walked one. He had gone 1-3 with a 5.97 ERA in his previous six starts since returning from the DL.
Before going on the DL in April, Hernandez struck out 12 in eight scoreless innings against Oakland on opening day and threw a one-hitter at Boston.
“Everything was like the first two games of the season,” he said, citing improved balance because of a more deliberate pitching motion.
Hernandez finished his night by fanning Adam LaRoche for the third time. He celebrated with a pump of his right arm as the Safeco Field crowd roared in appreciation.
“You knew eventually Felix would get there,” Mariners manager Mike Hargrove said. “We just needed it sooner rather than later.”
The Pirates, next-to-last in the National League in on-base percentage and owners of its second-fewest hits entering Thursday, made another struggling pitcher happy. Four of their last five shutouts have come against Kyle Lohse, Kameron Loe, Weaver and Hernandez, who were a combined 5-22 until they got well against Pittsburgh.
The Pirates haven’t scored since Bay singled in a run in the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s 5-3 victory over Seattle.
The Pirates swung early and often against Hernandez instead of testing his control by taking pitches. Twelve batters had at-bats of one or two pitches. Against Weaver, 11 did.
That suited Hernandez just fine, he said, because it kept his pitch count down.
Hernandez threw a constant barrage of fastballs, a couple of which reached 98 mph on the stadium’s radar gun. When Pittsburgh loaded the bases with two outs for their only threat in the fifth, Hernandez struck out Nate McLouth with a 97 mph fastball that McLouth thought was inside to end the inning.
“We could attack these hitters with his best stuff,” catcher Kenji Johjima said.
Suzuki saw 10 pitches in the bottom of the fifth from Van Benschoten and fouled off seven of them before he lined a single to left field to score Richie Sexson.
“I should have just thrown the ball down the middle and let him do whatever,” said a frustrated Van Benschoten.
Van Benschoten (0-2), making his second major league start since September 2004, allowed six hits and three runs in five innings. He walked two and struck out two.
Masumi Kuwata entered in the sixth. In the seventh, the 39-year-old rookie and veteran of 20 years in Japan faced countryman Suzuki for the first time in a regular-season game. He struck him out on a 68 mph pitch in the dirt.
“He’s a guy who’s established in Japan,” Suzuki said. “To be able to face him in the United States was big.”
The Pirates were last shutout in consecutive games on May 4-5, 2006. … The strikeouts were tied for Hernandez’s most since his return from the DL. He had nine in five innings of a 2-1 loss to San Diego on May 20.