Hernandez turns duel into laughter in M's 6-1 victory
Felix Hernandez allows one run in eight innings while the Mariners chase Yu Darvish, who walked six, after just four innings.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Texas @ M's, 7:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
It's an edict the Mariners have had preached to them over and over since the start of the 2011 spring training.
Players have been yelled at, benched, or released altogether for not following it the way they're supposed to. And on Monday night, in turning a supposed mound duel into a 6-1 rout of the division-leading Texas Rangers, the Mariners finally got a glimpse of how this revamped plate approach they've painstakingly adapted is supposed to pay off.
This one night, against bona fide opposition, they employed to the letter the approach manager Eric Wedge and his staff spent 16 months drilling into their brains. And when it was over, they'd kicked the living daylights out of Yu Darvish and a championship-level team they'll someday have to catch if they are ever to become a contender.
"He didn't locate probably as well as he'd probably like," Mariners leadoff man Dustin Ackley said. "And our guys didn't miss the pitches that we had opportunities to hit. And I think that's the key for us. Just not missing the pitches when we get them."
And the Mariners didn't miss much after drawing seven walks off Rangers pitching to spoil the much-anticipated Darvish-Felix Hernandez showdown. Hernandez lived up to his end of the deal, allowing just a Mitch Moreland solo homer over eight innings while striking out seven for the victory.
But Darvish was done just four innings into this one, largely because of six walks he had allowed in his first three-plus frames of work. A crowd of 18,672 at Safeco Field saw the Mariners make Darvish work for every out he got, exemplified by the 10 pitches it took him to strike out Mike Carp in a 1-2-3 second inning.
The Mariners have shown a more patient approach this season. But they still have the sixth-lowest walk rate in baseball, largely because opposing pitchers throw them more strikes than most teams in the game.
Starting with an Ichiro triple in the first inning that brought Michael Saunders home from first base after a one-out walk, the Mariners punished Darvish when he came in the zone.
"I think the last time, he was known to be a little wild and stuff like that," Ackley said of Darvish, who walked four Mariners in a sometimes rocky major-league debut in Texas last month. "So, I think we were just patient and looking for our pitch. The counts, it wasn't like they were all 3-0. They were 3-2, 3-1 walks. So, it seemed like we were seeing the ball pretty well."
Ichiro's triple gave him his first run batted in on a hit since May 8.
Ackley drew a key walk in the third inning to put two on after a Brendan Ryan leadoff single. Ichiro then lined a single to center to bring Ryan home for a 2-0 lead.
But the scoring didn't stop there as center fielder Josh Hamilton, celebrating his 31st birthday, tried to nab Ackley going from first to third on the single. Hamilton's throw sailed about 10 feet over third baseman Adrian Beltre's head to bring Ackley home with Ichiro taking third on the error.
Jesus Montero then drove Ichiro home on a deep sacrifice fly to center.
Darvish walked three straight batters to open the fourth inning before Ackley singled to right for a 5-0 lead. By the time Darvish escaped further damage that inning, he was up to 96 pitches and done for the night.
"Those guys were up there ready to hit," Wedge said. "But they laid off pitches they needed to lay off of."
Hernandez cruised with the early lead in his first start since being pounded by the Indians in Cleveland last week. He had his sinker working better this time after honing it in bullpen side sessions while the team was playing in Colorado.
"I wanted to attack and throw strikes," Hernandez said. "If you get behind against this lineup, it's trouble."
Hernandez held Hamilton hitless in four at-bats, popping him up once and striking him out twice — including on his 111th and final pitch to end the eighth. Throughout his effort, he kept several running verbal exchanges going with ex-teammate and longtime pal Beltre each time they faced one another.
"He's crazy and I'm crazy," Hernandez said. "So, we talk about a lot of stuff."
That was about the only battle worth monitoring once Darvish was chased. Darvish now has an earned-run average of 8.38 in two starts against the Mariners and 1.94 versus every other team he's faced.
The Mariners got their final run when Kyle Seager drew a two-out walk in the seventh off reliever Yoshinori Tateyama and scored on a double to left by Montero.
"You've really got to tip your hat to our guys," Wedge said. "Offensively, our guys went out there and made him (Darvish) come into the zone. And when he didn't, we took the passes where we could."