SEATTLE – It wasn’t awful. It wasn’t great. It certainly wasn’t efficient.
But it was competitive, and it did keep the Mariners in the game the minimum that manager Scott Servais asks from any starting pitcher, including a former ace struggling to do one thing that has defined him and turned him into a wealthy superstar.
When Felix Hernandez jogged to the Safeco Field mound, skipping over the first-base line as always, to start Thursday night’s game vs. the Blue Jays, he had to know that his future in the Mariners starting rotation hinged on his performance, no matter how much he tried to convince himself otherwise.
And when he walked off the mound after a 1-2-3 top of the fifth inning, head tilted skyward and possibly thinking, “Why can’t I have more of those innings?” or “I think I did enough to stay,” there was really no certainty as to whether he would or would not make his next start in five days against the Rangers.
If fans or even manager Scott Servais were searching for finality in the outing, they received none. It was middling, nothing that offered a, “Yes, he should stay,” or “No, he should go.”
In the end, Hernandez’s outing – five innings, two runs allowed on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts – didn’t factor much in the Mariners’ eventual 7-3 defeat by Toronto.
No, Seattle’s inability to muster any sort of offense against a career minor league pitcher, who was signed to a contract earlier in the day, and failures from the bullpen and on defense sent Seattle to a bad loss against a worse Blue Jays team with more fans in the announced crowd of 26,110 than the home team.
Seattle’s offense on the night consisted of a pair of homers from Nelson Cruz – two-run homer in the first inning and a solo homer in the eighth.
The Mariners have played some bad baseball since July 1, but this game was one of the worst. And if falling a half game back for the second wild card wasn’t bad enough, second baseman Dee Gordon exited the game in the top of the ninth inning after rolling his right ankle on second base while trying to turn a double play.
Realistically, a decision on Hernandez’s future probably won’t be made for another 24 to 48 hours.
Like so many starts over the last 2 1/2 seasons, Hernandez’s command wandered, disappeared, reappeared and betrayed him, all in the span of five innings. The two runs allowed came in the second. While people lament the lost velocity on the fastball, it’s always been about command – throwing and manipulating the baseball to where you want it to go.
The two Blue Jays runs came in an eternal second inning similar to so many that derailed his starts this season.
He allowed a leadoff single on a ground ball through the left side just out of the reach of third baseman Kyle Seager. Teoscar Hernandez followed with his first of three doubles in the game. After getting a much-needed infield pop-up for an out, Hernandez walked No. 8 hitter Luke Maile to load the bases.
Hernandez appeared to get a much-needed ground ball for a double play, or at least a force out at home. But Seager, who had missed the last three games on paternity leave, couldn’t make the sliding pick-up. Instead, it was a single for Devon Travis that scored two runs.
Toronto was supposed to be making a bullpen start of sorts, but minor leaguer Mike Hauschild, who was signed to the team earlier that day, pitched six innings of shutout relief to get a well-deserved win.
The Mariners bullpen wasn’t as good. Juan Nicasio and James Pazos each allowed two-run homers to put the game out of reach.
Diaz earns another nod
Mariners closer Edwin Diaz was named A.L. Reliever of the Month for the second consecutive month after going 9 for 9 in save opportunities and posting a 0.00 ERA in 10 appearances in July. Diaz leads the majors with 40 saves.
“He had a good month,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s had a lot of good months. I hope he’s got two more good months in him.”
Blue Jays: LHP Ryan Borucki (0-2, 2.83) will get the start for Toronto in the second game of this four-game series. Borucki has earned quality starts in five of his six starts this season, the best percentage of any Blue Jays starter.
Mariners: LHP Marco Gonzales (12-5, 3.37) starts for Seattle on Friday night. Gonzales has won five consecutive starts, allowing six total earned runs across 34 1/3 innings pitched in that span.
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