PITTSBURGH – The strained right calf that sidelined Felix Hernandez for a third of the season is healed. That doesn’t mean the ace is all better, and he knows it.
It will take time for the 2010 A.L. Cy Young Award winner to regain his form, yet there’s a grit that he showed in Seattle’s 7-4 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night that offered proof to Mariners manager Scott Servais that Hernandez is on his way back.
Hernandez picked up his first victory since May 21 despite getting touched for four runs over the first two innings, including a 416-foot homer by pitcher Francisco Liriano. Though Hernandez (5-4) never retired the Pirates in order, he found a way to get through six innings while giving his teammates enough time to get going at the plate.
“We’re certainly looking for crisper, sharper stuff than what he showed early in the game,” Servais said. “To his credit, he hung in there. He gave us a chance, kept it right there, and then our offense was the story.”
Kyle Seager’s three hits for Seattle included his 20th home run, and Franklin Gutierrez added his 10th off Liriano (6-10) as the Mariners began a rare trip to Pittsburgh by overcoming a three-run deficit and holding on late.
The Pirates brought the tying run to the plate in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings but failed to get even one man across the plate. Seattle’s only perfect inning came in the ninth, when Steve Cishek picked up his 24th save.
Gregory Polanco collected four hits, including his 13th homer, but Pittsburgh left nine men on base and went 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position.
“I liked the game plan throughout the game,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We pushed him every inning. We were able to score but he kept us off the board late.”
Hernandez spent nearly two months on the disabled list and hardly looked like his dominant self while slogging through 6 2/3 innings in a no-decision against the Chicago White Sox last Wednesday.
It looked like more of the same early. Polanco’s shot to center field just cleared the wall in the first. Starling Marte drilled an RBI triple off the wall in right and Jung Ho Kang added a run-scoring groundout to stake Liriano to a quick 3-0 lead.
When Liriano sent a Hernandez offering into the bushes beyond center in the second, the Pirates appeared to be in command with a 4-1 advantage.
“I didn’t have good mechanics,” Hernandez said. “I was missing a lot of pitches in the middle of the plate. … That’s what you get when you’ve been out for a long time. I’ve got to have better mechanics.”
But Hernandez eventually settled down and his teammates went after Liriano, who was dogged by control issues again. He threw nearly as many balls (34) as strikes (38) while walking four. The pitches he did get around the plate were often hammered. Gutierrez homered leading off the third and Seager tied it at 4 four batters later.
An RBI double by Shawn O’Malley and a run-scoring single by Robinson Cano helped chase Liriano in the fourth. An RBI groundout by Nelson Cruz against Jared Hughes gave the Mariners a three-run lead they didn’t surrender.
M’s trade Benoit
After the Mariners’ win, reliever Joaquin Benoit packed his things in the visitors’ clubhouse at PNC Park, having been notified by Servais that he had been traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for reliever Drew Storen and an unspecified amount of cash.
Benoit told a few teammates, including Hernandez, who seemed surprised to hear the news.
Storen, 28, was 1-3 with three saves and a whopping 6.21 ERA in 38 relief appearances. In 33 1/3 innings, he struck out 32 batters with 10 walks. Hitters were batting .309 (43 for 139) with a .921 on-base plus slugging percentage and six homers this season. He was designated for assignment on Sunday.
“Obviously, this has not been Drew’s best season, but he is closely linked to a run of great success pitching in the back end of very good bullpens,” M’s general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a statement. “Hopefully, this serves as a change of scenery, and over the next two months we can get him back on track.”
Storen had plenty of success in his first six big-league seasons, posting a 21-13 record with 95 saves and a 3.02 ERA in 355 appearances. He saved 43 games in 2011 and 29 in 2015.
Benoit, 39, never became the consistent set-up man the Mariners hoped when they acquired him in the offseason from the Padres in a trade that sent a pair of minor leaguers to San Diego. He battled shoulder issues during spring training and early in the season, including a disabled list stint. The issues limited his usage and affected his command of his pitches.
He made 26 appearances, posting a 1-1 record with a 5.18 ERA with 28 strikeouts and 15 walks in 24 1/3 innings.
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