Call the Tampa Bay Rays an elixir. Or a good luck charm. Either way, Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners would love to face them more often.
In his first start against the Rays since his perfect game in August 2012, Hernandez pitched a solid 6.2 innings and the offense broke out for a 12-5 win in front of 12,392 on a warm Monday night at Safeco Field.
The victory also meant a return to the win column for Hernandez (4-1, 3.03 ERA) who had not won since April 11 against Oakland, a span of five starts. Prior to the game, Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said he thought Hernandez would return to form after his previous two were affected by a lack of strength due to a bout of flu.
“I thought he threw the ball exceptionally well for six innings — obviously the long innings didn’t help,” McClendon said, referring to the time Hernandez spent in the dugout watching his offense. “He elevated some balls in that last inning, but still a pretty good outing for him.”
Hernandez, who gave up four runs on eight hits, is 5-2 with a 2.28 ERA over 90.2 innings career against the Rays.
For the second day in a row, Seattle’s offense delivered double-digit hits and saddled the opposing starter with at least seven runs.
Rookie centerfielder James Jones received his first start against a left-hander and had a double to start the game against Cesar Ramos. Stefen Romero followed with an RBI single, advancing to second on an error by rightfielder Wil Myers. Four errors plagued the Rays as the M’s hitters touched home nine times in the first three frames.
Up 1-0 with a runner on second, Robinson Cano hit an RBI double off the top of the wall in left field, missing a homer by inches. Corey Hart made it 3-0 after he, too, missed a homer to right by inches. He was tagged out at second trying to at least come away with a double for his trouble.
The Mariners scored five more times in the second to go up 8-0. Mike Zunino led off with an opposite-field home run to right and then errors started to bite the Rays.
Brad Miller reached base after Evan Longoria’s throw from third pulled James Loney off first. Jones hit a comebacker to Ramos, but Ramos threw errantly to second in an attempt to get the lead runner, leaving Miller and Jones safe at third and first.
The M’s plated four more runs, all unearned, while sending 11 men up. They tacked on another run on three more hits in the third, with Hart obtaining his second RBI of the game. Hart went 2-for-2 with a walk and two RBI.
Romero led the way, going 3-for-5 with a home run, double and three RBI. Cano went 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI before being lifted in the seventh inning.
All the damage came against Ramos, who was making his fifth start since transferring from the bullpen to fill in for the injured Alex Cobb. Ramos (1-2, 3.71 ERA) improved with each start since debuting in Cincinnati April 13.
Monday was a different story. He did settle down to eventually, retiring 12 consecutive hitters before he was relieved by former Mariner Josh Lueke in the seventh.
“That was pretty impressive to start. We’ve really been waiting on that (production) all year,” McClendon said of the three consecutive hits to start the game from his offense.
Hernandez welcomed the early lead, pitching strong for six innings. He scattered four hits and didn’t walk a batter in tossing up six zeroes. But three straight singles loaded the bases in the seventh andfinally yielded some runs.
Hernandez struck out the next two hitters, giving him seven, but Ryan Hanigan hit a bases-clearing double on a full count. That brought out McClendon to pull a frustrated Hernandez, who walked off the mound cursing at home plate umpire Mark Ripperger over his tight strike zone, leading to the first ejection in his MLB career.
“I’m sure he got his money’s worth,” McClendon said of Hernandez’s words with the umpire as he walked off the mound. “I didn’t understand everything he said but . . . I kinda knew it was going to happen because he was not happy.
“It was quite a few pitches that he was not happy about . . . started from the first inning on.”
Tom Wilhelmsen came on in relief, yielding another RBI double that cut the Mariners’ lead to 9-4, before ending the inning.
In the eighth, the Mariners responded with three runs off Lueke as a result of home runs by Romero and Justin Smoak. Smoak’s came with a runner on first and two out, increasing his league-leading two-out RBI total to 19.
“His path is getting better,” McClendon said of Smoak. “I like what I see.”
Yoervis Medina yielded one run in the ninth. The win allowed Seattle to keep pace with Oakland, remaining 3.5 games back of first, and move ahead of the Los Angeles Angels into sole possession of second.
OF/1B Logan Morrison (hamstring) will accompany the team on its road trip after taking batting practice and doing some running Monday. The Mariners leave after Wednesday’s game on a two-city, five-game trip. The plan is to get Morrison in a couple simulated games over the weekend. If all goes well, Morrison will head to AAA Tacoma the following week for a rehab assignment. He has been on the 15-day disabled list since straining his hamstring in mid-April at Texas . . . James Paxton and Taijuan Walker continue to progress in their respective throwing programs . . . OF Michael Saunders was held out of the game Monday. His hyper-extended left knee from Saturday is still “tender,” according to McClendon. It is not believed to be serious enough for a DL stint . . . Jones scored three runs Monday, falling one run short of tying Adam Jones for the most runs in a single game by a rookie.