SEATTLE--Is it a disturbing trend and a sign of things to come? Or is it just a small bump in an otherwise brilliant season?
Given two days' worth of extra rest and a packed Safeco Field--something that usually brings out the best in him--Felix Hernandez didn't pitch like the Felix Hernandez who has been taking the mound for the Mariners much of this season.
On a perfect summer Friday night, the 35,616 in attendance saw something that has never happened in Hernandez's career--and it wasn't a good thing.
The hard-hitting Washington Nationals belted four home runs off Hernandez--the most he's ever given up during a start--for five runs in what would be an 8-3 loss for Seattle.
The loss dropped the Mariners to 72-61. Seattle lost back-to-back games for the first time since a four-game losing streak July 22-25.
And they were bad losses.
"These are situations that are sometimes good to have happen so we'll know that things aren't going to be easy," said Robinson Cano, who had two hits. "You have to fight all the way to the end. Tough game, bad game, there's nothing else you can do. It's like we made a lot of errors. They beat us, they scored a lot of runs."
Much was made about the decision to give Hernandez a few extra days off after a road trip where he had two less-than-stellar starts. Manager Lloyd McClendon decided to push Hernandez back from his scheduled start Wednesday to Friday in hopes of keeping him strong for the final month of the season. The decision loomed as regretful when spot starter Erasmo Ramirez was shelled for 10 runs in an awful 12-4 loss to the Rangers.
"I think Lloyd did it for a long-term move, not just for Felix but for everybody," bench coach Trent Jewett said. "He was looking at things long term and the workload. We'll see the benefits of it in the days to come."
The two previous seasons, Hernandez admittedly wore down in the final month. In 2012, he was 0-4 in his last six starts with a 6.62 earned-run average and dealt with back issues. Last season, he went 1-6 in his final nine starts with a 5.15 ERA.
The decision to push him back was to help combat that kind of decline. It also didn't hurt that the extra days seemed to pay immediate dividends. Coming into the game, he'd made 13 starts with five or more days of rest instead of the usual four. In those starts he was 7-0 with a 1.77 ERA.
But he didn't get those results against the Nationals, taking his second loss in his last three starts and falling to 13-5.
"Felix is human," said Jewett, who was filling in for McClendon while he attends his daughter's wedding. "We ask a lot of him. We expect a lot of him. And I think he's up for the challenge. But he's human and the other team is getting paid too."
Anthony Rendon started the longball parade in the first inning, blasting the first pitch he saw from Hernandez over the wall in center field.
Hernandez's teammates answered for him, getting the lead back in the bottom of the first on RBI singles from Kendrys Morales and Kyle Seager off Nationals starter Jordan Zimmerman.
But Hernandez couldn't hold the 2-1 lead. In the third inning with Rendon on first base, Jayson Werth golfed a low fastball over the wall in deep left-center for a two-run homer. The Nats would never trail again.
"It was a tough outing," Hernandez said. "I couldn't get out of the middle of the plate for four innings. I was up. And I got crushed."
Did the extra two days' rest take him out of his routine?
"Not at all," he said.
Hernandez insisted his health is fine.
"I'm healthy," he said. "Oh yeah, I'm healthy. I'm good."
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