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 always 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 the 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 a 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 on July 22-25.
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 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. Last season, he went 1-6 in his final nine starts with a 5.15 ERA and also battled lower-back issues.
The decision to push him back was to help combat this 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 on the season.
Anthony Rendon started the longball parade in the first inning, blasting the first pitch he saw from Hernandez over the wall in center field. It was his 18th of the season.
Hernandez had a look of disbelief at the home run, seeming stunned it went out.
His 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.
The lead was pushed to 5-2 in the fourth inning. On the 10th pitch of his at-bat to start the inning, Ian Desmond hit a laser into the Mariners bullpen for his 22nd homer.
Moments later Wilson Ramos hit the fourth homer off Hernandez, yanking a shot over the left-field wall to push the lead to 5-2.
Hernandez wouldn’t give up any more homers on the night, but he was done after seven innings, having given up the five runs on 10 hits with a walk and one strikeout.
In his last three starts, Hernandez has allowed 10 earned runs in 171/3 innings pitched with six homers.
The Nationals proved to equal opportunity when it came to hitting home runs. In the eighth inning, Bryce Harper crushed his eighth homer of the season, sending one over the wall in right field off reliever Joe Beimel. Ramos made it back-to-back homers, hitting his second homer of the game and ninth of the season, with a solo shot off Beimel.
The Mariners finally got a run in the ninth inning as Endy Chavez came up with an RBI double off Rafael Soriano to make it 8-3. But it was a meaningless run in a decisive loss.