King Again: Hernandez Starts Strong as M’s Top Indians 2-1
SEATTLE (AP) — Felix Hernandez delivered the type of opening day performance the Seattle Mariners have come to expect — even after missing some time during spring training.
It's just a new version of Hernandez that got the job done.
"I had to do my job. It was good. It was fun," Hernandez said.
Hernandez pitched shutout ball into the sixth inning, Nelson Cruz hit a two-run home run in the first and the Mariners opened the season with a 2-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night.
Hernandez became just the seventh pitcher to start at least 10 straight opening days, and he got off to a strong start against one of the best teams in the American League. Hernandez allowed two hits in 5 1/3 innings, only being pulled due to a limited pitch count. His spring training was truncated after being hit by a line drive and missing some time.
He has seven opening day wins, tied with Randy Johnson, Tom Seaver and Jimmy Key for fourth most.
"Can't say enough about the job Felix did tonight. Limited work in spring training and compete like that. Really stayed with the game plan. His curveball was outstanding all night," Seattle manager Scott Servais said.
Following Hernandez, the Mariners used five relievers. Edwin Diaz hit two batters in the ninth and let pinch-runner Rajai Davis reach third with one out. But Diaz struck out Yan Gomes and Tyler Naquin to close out the save.
Hernandez (1-0) was given an early jolt from Cruz, who picked up where 2017 left off. After hitting 39 home runs last year, Cruz hit the first pitch he saw from Corey Kluber (0-1) over the center field fence for an early 2-0 lead. The 88 mph cutter stayed in the middle of the plate, and Cruz didn't miss.
That was all Seattle would get against Kluber, who pitched eight innings and allowed six hits.
"It was supposed to be a cutter down and away. I just got underneath it, and it ended up kind of just spinning, hanging pretty much middle-middle," Kluber said.
Seattle has asked Hernandez not to be afraid of contact. He's no longer the strikeout pitcher of his younger years, when his fastball regularly clocked in the mid-to-upper 90s. Location and smarts are keys now.
For at least one outing, it looked like the changes are taking hold.
Hernandez allowed singles to Jason Kipnis in the third inning and Edwin Encarnacion in the fourth, but most of the contact made was weak and easy outs. He even quick-pitched Bradley Zimmer for a strikeout ending the fifth inning.
Hernandez walked Kipnis on four pitches with one out in the sixth, ending his night at 83 pitches. Dan Altavilla got Jose Ramirez to ground into a double play, and the Mariners were through the sixth without allowing a run.
Cleveland got its only run in the seventh after Lonnie Chisenhall doubled with two outs and Gomes' flair to center field dropped in front of Dee Gordon. It was the only time Seattle allowed a runner past second base.
"It's been a while since we opened at home, so it was really good," Hernandez said.
Ichiro Suzuki played left field and went 0 for 2 in his first game with Seattle since being traded to the New York Yankees in 2012. Suzuki signed as a free agent with the Mariners this month, reuniting him with the club where he played his first 12 seasons. The Japanese star was greeted by huge cheers during player introductions and prior to his first at-bat.
During the pregame ceremony the Mariners included Tito Francona — father of Cleveland manager Terry Francona — among those with ties to baseball that passed away since the end of last season. Terry Francona appeared moved by the gesture, and Francisco Lindor put his arm around his manager during the moment of silence.
"I was stunned. I wasn't ready for that. It was very classy on their part. I kind of had to catch myself right there," Francona said.
Indians: OF Michael Brantley was placed on the 10-day disabled list as Cleveland finalized its roster, but he is progressing in his rehab from right ankle surgery. Brantley was scheduled to only play seven innings in his last spring training stint with Triple-A Columbus but played all nine because he was feeling so good.
Mariners: C Mike Zunino was a late scratch for the opener due to stiffness in his right side. Zunino felt the stiffness develop after his final swing of batting practice during Wednesday's workout. ... RHPs Hisashi Iwakuma (shoulder surgery) and Erasmo Ramirez (lat strain) both threw bullpens Thursday as they continue recovery from their injuries.
Indians: Cleveland will send Carlos Carrasco to the mound on Saturday. Carrasco won his final six decisions of the 2017 regular season as part of an 18-win season.
Mariners: Seattle will have lefty James Paxton on the mound. Paxton was 12-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 2017.