SEATTLE -- Felix Hernandez has heard the questions, the concerns over whether he's still the King after an injury-riddled 2017 that saw him win just six games.
But despite an injury-shortened spring, the 31-year-old outdueled Corey Kluber in a battle of former American League Cy Young Award winners Thursday night as the Mariners edged the Indians, 2-1, on Opening Day at Safeco Field.
"I wasn't surprised," Hernandez said after throwing 5 1/3 scoreless innings on just two hits. "I was pumped up. The crowd was unbelievable. It was Opening Day. I had to do my job, so that was good. That was fun."
Kluber, last year's AL Cy Young winner, gave up a two-run homer to Nelson Cruz in the first inning and then shut down Seattle the rest of the way. Right fielder MItch Haniger had three of the Mariners' six hits off Kluber, who finished his eight innings with one walk and eight strikeouts.
Hernandez, on a strict pitch count after a line drive off his arm on Feb. 26 limited him to just three Cactus League starts, turned the game over to his bullpen after 83 pitches. Five Seattle relievers limited Cleveland to three hits and a run, with Edwin Diaz working around two hit batters and a balk in the ninth to get the save.
Hernandez has made 10 straight Opening Day starts, which is tied with Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver and Walter Johnson for the third-longest streak for one team in MLB history, behind Robin Roberts' 12 with the Phillies from 1950-61 and Jack Morris' 11 with the Tigers from 1980-90.
Hernandez's 11 Opening Day starts overall are tied for 10th all-time, with the record being 16 by Seaver. The Mariners' ace is now 7-2 with a 1.53 ERA on Opening Day, with 78 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings.
Hernandez clearly was pumped up by the full house and the chance to extend his Opening Day streak.
"That's the kind of guy I am," he said. "I like to compete, I like the big stage, I like the highlights and stuff like that. As soon as I walked from the dugout to the mound, it was electric. It was awesome. You have to do good, man. You have the fans behind you, they support you, so you have to go out and compete."
A sold-out crowd of 47,149 -- the largest regular-season gathering in stadium history -- gave Ichiro Suzuki a standing ovation in his return to the Mariners after a 5 1/2-year absence. The 44-year-old left fielder went 0-for-2 before being replaced in the eighth inning.
• Ichiro returns to raucous ovation
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
No waiting around: Mariners manager Scott Servais noted before the game that his club's best bet was to get to Kluber early, and Cruz took heed, jumping on the first pitch he saw from the Indians' ace in the bottom of the first and driving it 412 feet over the fence in center for a 2-0 lead. Cruz led the AL in RBIs last year, and his 167 homers since the start of 2014 are the most in the Majors over that span.
"I just wanted to see a pitch I could drive, and it was one of the few mistakes he made tonight," Cruz said. "It was kind of elevated, and most of the cutters he threw the rest of the night were down and away. He was dealing."
• Cruz opens '18 with homer off Kluber
Diaz slams door in ninth: The Mariners' closer tight-roped to a tough save as he hit Edwin Encarnacion and Lonnie Chisenhall with pitches with one out in the ninth and also issued a balk that put pinch-runner Rajai Davis in scoring position. But the hard-throwing 24-year-old dug in and struck out Yan Gomes and Tyler Naquin, stranding runners at second and third to end the game.
"His stuff was great. It was electric," Servais said of Diaz. "The couple hit by pitches just nicked the guys. A little tough luck there. Eddie hung in there. He executed pitches to get out of the jam. I tip my cap. Eddie had his struggles at home here last year. He's aware of that. He got over the hump tonight, and hopefully he can ride that forward."
Tough read for Dee: Cleveland finally broke through in the seventh, when Gomes sent a broken-bat fly ball to shallow left-center field. Dee Gordon, who moved from second base to center this season, did not get a good break on the ball, which dropped between him, shortstop Jean Segura and Ichiro. On the play (which had a 93 percent catch probability, per Statcast™), Chisenhall scored from second to cut Seattle's lead to 2-1.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Hernandez's seventh Opening Day win puts him into a tie with Randy Johnson, Jimmy Key and Seaver for the fourth-most Opening Day wins all-time, trailing only Walter Johnson (9), Morris (8) and Pete Alexander (8).
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
With one out in the top of the ninth, the Indians challenged a non-call after Chisenhall motioned to home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook that an inside pitch from Diaz struck him. Replays clearly showed the baseball hitting Chisenhall's left pant leg and Chisenhall was awarded first base following a 43-second review.
Indians: Right-hander Carlos Carrasco finished fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting last season and looks poised for another strong year. He'll make his 2018 debut on Saturday, when the Tribe faces the Mariners in a 4:10 p.m. ET tilt at Safeco Field.
Mariners:James Paxton gets the start Saturday in the season's second game as the Mariners face the Indians at 1:10 p.m. PT at Safeco Field. The big lefty was 12-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 24 starts last year, but didn't face Cleveland. He's 0-2 with a 3.38 ERA in two prior starts against the Tribe, the last coming in 2016.
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