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Felix wins 17th, has big benchmarks in sight

Mariners ace on track for 7th straight 200-K, 200-IP season

SEATTLE -- With four starts left in his season, Felix Hernandez remains in the hunt for some pretty good milestones.

After throwing eight scoreless innings with just three hits in a 5-0 win over the Rangers on Thursday, Hernandez improved to 17-8 with a 3.49 ERA. He needs two wins to equal his career high, set in 2009, and three to become just the third 20-game winner in Mariners history.

The King also struck out eight Rangers, putting him at 175 strikeouts in 183 innings. If he reaches 200 strikeouts and 200 innings for a seventh straight season, he'll join Roger Clemens and Walter Johnson in a tie for second behind Tom Seaver's nine consecutive 200-200 seasons.

Surely the 20 wins and 200 strikeouts would mean something to the 29-year-old ace, but he won't allow himself to go that direction at this juncture.

"I'm not thinking about that," Hernandez said. "I'm just going out and doing my job."

He's been doing that extremely well of late. Since a five-game swoon when he went 2-3 with an 8.48 ERA, Hernandez has won his last three starts with a 1.88 ERA, going eight innings each outing.

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Hernandez said he's fine-tuned some mechanical issues that have helped his changeup in particular.

"I was keeping the ball down and had the sinker going, too," he said. "Before it was up and not moving at all. Today it definitely felt good. That's the changeup I need."

Jesus Sucre, who has been catching most of Hernandez's recent starts, said Hernandez was on point from start to finish in this one.

"Everything was down and I think that's the key," Sucre said. "Today was one of the best games I've caught him. He was throwing hard and the ball was moving a lot."

Hitting Hernandez isn't easy, but neither is catching him.

"Today, his changeup is down in the dirt," Sucre said. "Even his curveball, you have to be ready every time. But I love to catch him. He's one of my best friends here, and for me, it's fun."

The Mariners are now 18-10 in games Hernandez starts, compared to 50-63 for the rest of their starters. But Hernandez has kept doing his part, and he'll see where that takes him, looking to finish off with another strong September after going 2-1 with a 1.88 ERA in six starts the final month last year.

"It's important for the team and for me," he said. "I'm trying to win the most games that I can and help the team win."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast.
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