MINNEAPOLIS — The formula for success seems so simple: good starting pitching plus timely hitting with runners on base usually leads to victory on most occasions.
It’s not any big secret.
But at the major league level it isn’t always quite so easy to execute and replicate on a game-by-game basis.
The Mariners (21-22) had been lacking in that hitting aspect for more than a week, which is why they’d won just four of their last 10 and were on a four-game losing streak coming into Sunday’s series finale against the Minnesota Twins.
But it all changed on a brilliant spring day with a crowd of 32,511 in attendance at Target Field.
Felix Hernandez did what a No. 1 starter is supposed to do when their team is struggling: give the Mariners a brilliant start.
And after getting just one hit in their last 26 at-bats with runners in scoring position, Seattle hitters came to life getting a few hits with runners on, leading to a 6-2 win over the Minnesota Twins.
“We had much better at-bats with runners in scoring position,” McClendon said. “Our guys had better plans, had better ideas of what they were doing up there. That’s all we ask. Today was a good day for us.”
Hernandez worked eight innings, giving up two runs on seven hits with a walk and five strikeouts to improve to 5-1 on the season and lower his ERA to 2.94 on the season.
“It was a good day,” he said.
In the Mariners’ last extended losing streak, which lasted eight games, Hernandez had a chance to stop it at six games, but failed against the Astros at Safeco Field. He made sure that didn’t happen again. Was that on his mind?
“Oh definitely,” he said. “But I try and go out there and win every game. Today was that kind of a day.”
The two Twins’ runs came in the third inning when Trevor Plouffe dumped a two-out flare into center field, lunging at a curveball off the plate.
“It was off the plate,” Hernandez said. “He put a good swing on it and just flicked at it. I was a little (ticked). I want to put zeroes up on the scoreboard. After that, I made better pitches.”
There would be no more hiccups for Hernandez, who allowed just four more hits and used a pair of double plays to get out of minor jams.
“You know you just want get him the lead because the longer the game goes on the stronger he gets,” said Robinson Cano, who notched his first four-hit game as a Mariner and 25th of his career.
The Mariners didn’t give him the lead right away. It was a slow build. Down 2-0, they cut the lead in half in the fourth inning as Kyle Seager got the team’s first hit with a runner in scoring position—something that happened just once in the previous three games. Seager punched a soft single into center off of Twins’ starter Ricky Nolasco to score Cano, who led off with a single, to make it 2-1.
“In this game, you can turn everything with one swing in one game,” Cano said of the team’s struggles. “We are going to go through ups and downs.”
This was a game of ups for the Mariners.
Seattle took the lead for good in the fifth inning. James Jones beat out an infield single, outhustling Nolasco to first base on his ground ball to first baseman Joe Mauer. Michael Saunders continued his torrid hitting, lacing a triple down the right field line to score Jones from second to tie the game at 2-2. Saunders went 6 for 11 in the series with a double, triple, homer and four RBI with three runs scored.
“I’m seeing the ball well and I feel like I’m getting some pitches to hit,” he said. “And when I do get those pitches, I feel like I’m putting a good swing on them.”
Cano followed with a booming fly ball to center field that got caught up in the wind and hit off the wall. The long double scored Saunders and pushed the lead to 3-2. It was the second ball he hit off the wall in center for a double.
“As I long as I do my job with runners in scoring position, I’m happy,” Cano said. “If it doesn’t leave the park, I’m not going to get frustrated because of that. Because one day they are going to go out.”
Seattle continued to add on. Saunders added a sacrifice fly in the sixth off of Caleb Thielbar. Justin Smoak doubled home Stefen Romero in the seventh off of Thielbar to push it to 5-2. It was Smoak’s team-high 11th double of the season and 27th RBI. Smoak had 19 doubles all of last season.
The Mariners tacked on one more run in the ninth. Cano came up with his fourth hit of the game and later scored on a wild pitch. The four-hit day pushed his batting average to .318 on the season.
“He is a great hitter,” McClendon said. “He’s going to hit. He’s going to hit his home runs. Just be patient. He’s amazing.”
Up four runs, McClendon was able to let closer Fernando Rodney, pitch the ninth in a non-save situation and get some work. Rodney hadn’t thrown in four games.
“It was an ideal situation for us today,” McClendon said. “Our starter went eight and we got our closer some much-needed work.”