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06/09/10 12:26 AM ET

Mariners can't overcome Felix's slow start

Hernandez surrenders early runs, matches loss total of 2009

ARLINGTON -- Felix Hernandez, the American League's second-best pitcher and a 19-game winner for the Mariners last season, surrendered at least one run in the first inning for the seventh time in his 13 starts on Tuesday night.

And even he is baffled by his shaky starts. Of the first 36 runs he allowed this season, 11 of them (31 percent) were scored in the first inning.

"I don't know why. I don't know," he said after the Mariners dropped a 7-1 decision to the Rangers before 18,774 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

The two runs Hernandez surrendered right off the bat, a missed sign, and even more missed scoring opportunities against one of their newest nemeses turned into the Mariners' 35th loss of the season.

Rangers right-hander Colby Lewis, who had to regain his form during a stint in Japan, continued his dominance of the Mariners, holding them to four hits and one run over seven innings.

As usual, he was especially tough when in the most trouble.

Seattle was 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and is now 1-for-22 in those situations in three games against Lewis this season.

"I've had success in the past against them, even before I went to Japan," Lewis said. "I don't know, it may be a comfort deal, it may not. It would be nice to have 30 starts against them [in a season], but that's not the way it works."

In other words, he has their number -- and knows it.

"One thing he's been successful with this year is keeping hitters off balance," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "We had him at 80 pitches through four [innings], and we end up letting him back in the ballgame pitch-count wise in the fifth, allowing him to go three more innings.

"Maybe we were overly aggressive or just not hitting the ball for base hits at that point."

A key point in the game occurred in the third inning when, with runners on first second and nobody out, Rob Johnson -- the runner at second -- thought he saw the hit-and-run sign flashed by third-base coach Lee Tinsley on a 2-and-1 pitch to Chone Figgins.

Johnson took off for third. Figgins took the pitch for ball three, and the first out of the inning was recorded when Johnson was tagged out at second, which had been occupied by Michael Saunders.

"I thought I saw the hit-and-run," he said. "Obviously, you don't want to get the sign wrong when there are runners on first and second with nobody out. I thought I saw it."

When did he realize he misread the sign?

"When I was tagged out by 14 feet, or actually about 25 feet," he said.

The inning ended without a run being scored, but the Mariners put more pressure on Lewis in the fourth, when Franklin Gutierrez singled for Seattle's first hit, and Jose Lopez walked. Johnson's two-out single to left-center with two outs drove in Gutierrez.

The potential tying run was nullified in the sixth inning when Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus made a superb play to rob Josh Wilson of a run-scoring infield hit.

A three-run sixth inning, and two-run seventh, on Vladimir Guerrero's 422-foot home run, finished off Hernandez, whose record dipped to 3-5. He has now lost as many games this season as he did the entire 2009 season.

Hernandez, trying to win back-to-back starts for the first time since mid-April, fell into a two-run bind right off the bat on Josh Hamilton's two-out, two-strike, two-run double to left-center.

The first two hits barely eluded the gloves of Wilson and Lopez, the left side of the infield, and the ball Hamilton hit was an inch or so away from becoming the third out.

"It went off the tip of my glove," said Saunders, who made a gallant dive for the ball.

"That was a good pitch," Hernandez said, "a fastball down and away."

The Rangers did to Hernandez what they couldn't do against left-hander Cliff Lee the previous night -- be patient.

"They did a great job of not swinging at pitches that were really close to being strikes," Johnson said. "Last night, Cliff made them swing the bat. You would think hitters would be more patient against a guy like Lee, but you can't be patient against a guy who throws 15 balls the whole game.

"They were not swinging at borderline pitches tonight. They created more patience at the plate."

Johnson said early in the game, Felix was not able to command his bread-and-butter two-seam fastball because it was breaking so much.

"His sinker [two-seam fastball] was going crazy, so we had to go to his four-seamer," the catcher explained. He usually has a little bit better command of his four-seamer when he has better command of his two-seamer, but there was just too much sink and was off the plate, and it got him in trouble.

"He has the kind of stuff that he can get back in the count when he gets behind, but it one of those things tonight when he couldn't."

The final two games of this four-game series appear daunting for the Mariners, who start right-hander Ian Snell (0-4, 4.64 ERA) and left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith (0-4, 6.65 ERA).

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.