A's struggle to support Straily vs. Felix, Mariners
Lowrie chips in only run with ninth-inning blast to break up shutout
OAKLAND -- In the bottom of the seventh inning on Saturday, A's catcher John Jaso and Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez had a notable exchange at first base after Jaso legged out an infield single.
"I ran down the line and he's like, 'What are you doing over here?'" Jaso said. "And I just told him he was nasty today, and that was it."
Perhaps Jaso's "nasty" comment was an understatement, as Hernandez looked to be nearly unhittable in Seattle's 3-1 road victory over the A's.
Jaso knows Hernandez better than most. The two were batterymates during the 2012 season in Seattle, and he was also Hernandez's catcher when the Mariners' ace threw baseball's 23rd perfect game. So it didn't take long for Jaso to notice that Hernandez was on point Saturday afternoon.
"I saw his first curveball the first at-bat, and it was pretty sharp," Jaso said. "Once you see how sharp the curveball is, that's a telltale sign with him that he's on."
Safe to say, Jaso's prediction came true. Henandez was on point.
The Seattle ace mowed through Oakland's order to start the game, retiring the first 11 batters he faced before Jed Lowrie broke it up with a single up the middle. Still, Hernandez continued to pitch strong and was just three outs away from earning MLB's first shutout of the year when Lowrie led off the ninth inning with a solo shot to right field.
It marked Oakland's only run of the afternoon, but that's not to say there wasn't some ninth-inning drama. Lowrie's homer gave the home crowd a jolt of energy and Yoenis Cespedes nearly tied things up with a two-run shot later in the frame, but it hooked foul down the left-field line. Then Fernando Rodney came in and closed out the game by getting the two final outs.
But the story of the day was undoubtedly Hernandez, who is now undefeated in his past 10 starts in Oakland, going 5-0 with a 2.76 ERA at the Coliseum since the start of 2009.
"Today I felt really good," Hernandez said. "The game was unbelievable. The defense was great. We got everybody involved, so it was real good. All my pitches were working really good. That makes it fun. You get to throw everything for strikes, so that makes it really fun."
Both Lowrie and A's manager Bob Melvin had high praise for King Felix after the game, saying it's the best they've ever seen Hernandez throw in person. In all, he went 8 ⅓ innings, allowing an earned run on six hits and a walk while striking out eight.
"I would say for seven innings, that might be the best I've seen him," Melvin said. "Especially early on, it looked like he had a little more hop on his fastball. Mixed in his breaking ball a little bit more and then always has the changeup whenever he wants it."
Offensively, the A's had some notable players continue to struggle, as Josh Donaldson (.091), Josh Reddick (.100) and Cespedes (.200) went a combined 0-for-12 on Saturday. But Melvin didn't sound overly concerned about his third baseman, Donaldson, who came out of nowhere in 2013 to be one of the team's most valuable players.
"Early on this season, maybe trying to do a little too much at times," Melvin said.
Hernandez's mastery wiped out a quality start from A's righty Dan Straily. Making his season debut after being pushed back a day due to Friday's canceled game, Straily matched Hernandez with two perfect frames and four early strikeouts to start the contest.
But the Mariners finally got to Straily in the fifth, sending eight men to the plate while building a three-run lead. Outfielder Dustin Ackley, who isn't known for his power, started the scoring by belting a two-run homer to right field. Two batters later, Abraham Almonte unloaded on a Straily two-seamer and sent it deep to the right-field bleachers for a solo shot, giving Hernandez and the Mariners a comfortable 3-0 lead.
Straily was happy to finish off his outing with a 1-2-3 frame in the sixth, and he was mostly upbeat about his first start of the year. He tossed six innings, allowing three earned runs on six hits and a walk while striking out seven.
"It is what it is," Straily said. "Did a good job of executing the game plan, minus those two pitches."
Following Straily's performance, Oakland's bullpen kept Seattle's lineup quiet with three shutout innings. Pitching in the eighth was closer Jim Johnson, who has become an early target of A's fan criticism since giving up two late leads earlier this week.
This time around, Johnson allowed a baserunner, but got out of the inning without giving up a run, receiving cheers instead of boos when returning to the dugout.
"I just wanted to make sure I got him an inning today," Melvin said. "I think that is key for him."
For the series finale on Sunday, Oakland will send Sonny Gray to the mound to face Seattle righty Erasmo Ramirez.