SEATTLE – Has optimism been replaced by fatalism when it comes to a Felix Hernandez start?
Even when an outing starts out well like it did on Saturday night at Safeco Field, the dread/expectation of failure seems to loom with each pitch, each batter, which also happened Saturday night in an uninspiring 5-0 loss to a bad Chicago White Sox team.
Hernandez was brilliant for three innings, gave up four runs in an interminable fourth inning and lasted only five innings. Meanwhile, his teammates did little to help him out at the plate or on the bases.
Seattle’s offensive woes for July weren’t solved from the time off for the All-Star break. They made White Sox starter Dylan Covey, who came into the game with a 0-4 record and 11.70 earned-run average in his previous four starts, look unhittable.
And, well, he was for six innings. The Mariners’ first hit against the right-handed Covey came with one out in the sixth inning on a Dee Gordon single to center. Before that, they’d had three base runners – two reaching via walks and one by a throwing error.
It doesn’t seem that long ago when Hernandez was thought to be one of the most reliable starting pitchers in baseball. He was a top of the rotation horse who gave you a chance to win in nearly every one of 30 starts in a season.
But it’s been longer than you think. That version of Hernandez last appeared regularly in 2015. Since then, over 60 starts in 2 1/2 seasons, it’s been a guess to know what version, what execution level, what result you would get from Hernandez when he stepped on the mound.
For the first three innings, Hernandez offered up a nostalgic reminder of his better days. He rediscovered the command and movement on his nasty changeup, which had been missing in previous outings. With the pitch disappearing out of the strike zone, Hernandez cruised through the White Sox lineup, allowing just a two-out walk in the second and recording every out in the second and third by strikeout.
Could his brief 10-day stint on the disabled list for a sore lower back be the key to starting a strong second-half run for the former ace of the staff? Well, the fourth inning gave no indication of such hope.
Facing the White Sox for the second time through the order, he ran into some trouble. He gave up a single to Yolmer Sanchez and hit Jose Abreu with a wayward curveball to start the problems. Gordon robbed Daniel Palka of a single with a nice diving stop. But that good fortune didn’t help Hernandez. He allowed a first-pitch changeup to catch just a little too much of the plate to Avisail Garcia, who was looking for it. Garcia muscled the ball over the wall in center field for a three-run homer. Hernandez then gave up a double to Omar Narvaez and a hard single to Leury Garcia to allow another run to score.
It didn’t help that Jean Segura was thrown out trying to steal third base in the fifth with Nelson Cruz at the plate and the Mariners down 4-0.
Covey, once an unsigned first-round pick by the Brewers in 2010, was a Rule 5 draft selection this offseason.
He hadn’t been particularly good this season, but on this night, he pitched 8 1/3 shutout innings, allowing two hits – the Gordon single in the sixth and a one-out single to Segura in the ninth that ended his outing.
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