07/12/08 12:17 AM ET
Hernandez runs out of gas vs. Royals
Righty goes five innings, gives up three runs in loss
By Mark Dent / MLB.com
That was three weeks ago. Felix Hernandez went down with a sprained ankle and didn't pitch again until Friday's 3-1 loss to the Royals.
For a while everything was fine, as Hernandez left batters flailing at the ball like he's done so many times before.
The Mariners hadn't hit well in days. With Hernandez throwing, it looked like they might not have to.
Then the fifth inning came along. Kansas City got Hernandez for three runs that inning, and its starter, Luke Hochevar, was too good for Seattle to do anything with its bats in the loss.
"It was really nice to see him out there, doing what he could do," manager Jim Riggleman said. "On other nights, that three runs there might not have seemed as much, but we're not putting any runs up there, so it looked like a lot."
Hernandez was settting the league on fire before the ankle sprain. He did against the Royals, too, but only for four innings.
Those first four frames were something to behold. Hernandez pitched like the home-plate collision against the Mets had never occurred. He struck out three of the first six batters, and another three in the third and fourth. No one got a hit until the fourth, and all but one of his outs was on a groundout or strikeout.
Hernandez was just excited to be out there after three long weeks.
"I was going crazy," he said.
Something changed in the fifth for Hernandez. Hernandez got Mark Grudzielanek to pop up and then struck out Alex Gordon to start the inning, but the rest of it wasn't so easy.
There was a double. A walk. A wild pitch. The seemingly invincible Hernandez of the first four innings had disappeared.
Riggleman thought Hernandez's breaking ball lacked the same bite as earlier in the game. Catcher Jeff Clement thought it could've been slight fatigue. Hernandez was just impressed with how many good at-bats the Royals had.
It started with a Ross Gload single, then a walk to John Buck. With runners on first and second, Joey Gathright singled to center field, scoring Gload.
Hernandez's wild pitch came next while David DeJesus was batting, moving the runners to second and third. When Hernandez spoke of good at-bats, he really meant DeJesus.
During the at-bat, DeJesus fouled off five pitches, including one that would've been a home run if it was about 20 feet to the left and another pitch that would've been a double. Hernandez tried everything. He said he went with a curve, changeup, slider and fastball during the at-bat. Finally, DeJesus hit a slider for a double, driving in two runs.
Clement was equally impressed with DeJesus' at-bat.
"Usually, you don't see a guy like Felix getting lasers hit off him," Clement said.
When they told him he was coming out before the sixth, Hernandez said he was seriously mad. He thought he could've thrown 40 more pitches on top of the 83 he had already thrown.
"I was [upset]," Hernandez said. "I said 'No, I'm not coming out.'"
He had to, though, and ended the night with eight strikeouts and three earned runs over five innings. It wasn't nearly enough for a win, with Seattle struggling to hit.
The Mariners got their only run in the seventh, when Adrian Beltre scored on a Miguel Cairo groundout. Beltre had doubled to start the inning. He was one of only four Seattle runners to reach second base.
Hochevar, the Royals starter, went seven innings, allowing just five hits and one run. Ramon Ramirez and Joakim Soria shut the Mariners out in the eighth and ninth. In the month of July, Seattle has scored more than four runs just twice.
That type of production won't even be enough even when Hernandez is ready to go deeper into games. And according to him, that's right now.
The King got one start down since his return from the injury, and he repeatedly said that his ankle was fine. That image of him rolling in the dirt against the Mets is certainly out of his head.
Mark Dent is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.