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Felix solid, Cruz homers twice in loss to Toronto

Mariners' offense remains stagnant as club slips in Wild Card chase
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- It wasn't the vintage Felix Hernandez of old. More like the older Felix Hernandez of now.

But on a night when he was fighting to keep his spot in the rotation of the only team he's pitched for in a sterling 14-year Major League career, the veteran right-hander did what the Mariners asked.

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SEATTLE -- It wasn't the vintage Felix Hernandez of old. More like the older Felix Hernandez of now.

But on a night when he was fighting to keep his spot in the rotation of the only team he's pitched for in a sterling 14-year Major League career, the veteran right-hander did what the Mariners asked.

View Full Game Coverage

He kept them in the game and gave them a chance to win with five innings of two-run ball, though that formula went south when Kendrys Morales and Aledmys Diaz launched two-run homers off the Mariners' bullpen as the Blue Jays pulled out a 7-3 victory in Thursday night's series opener at Safeco Field.

The third straight defeat dropped the Mariners a half-game behind idle Oakland in the race for the American League's second Wild Card berth at 63-46, as they've lost 14 of their last 21.

Seattle also lost Dee Gordon to an injury during Toronto's three-run ninth inning as he rolled his ankle while hitting the second base bag attempting to catch a throw from third baseman Kyle Seager. Manager Scott Servais wasn't certain of Gordon's status immediately after the game.

The Mariners will regain suspended second baseman Robinson Cano on Aug. 14, but certainly can't afford to lose Gordon's speed and impact atop the lineup for long as they attempt to snap out of their recent offensive funk.

It hasn't been pretty recently for Hernandez, whose 8-9 record belies a career-high ERA that dipped ever-so-slightly to 5.49. He hasn't gone deeper than five innings in his last five starts and needed 92 pitches to scramble through five frames again, allowing five hits and two walks with a pair of strikeouts.

"I just have to keep working," said Hernandez. "That's all I've got to do. Keep working, keep fighting. Just go out there and give the team a chance to win. It's a lot of fight every day."

Video: TOR@SEA: Servais on offensive woes, Cruz's 2 homers

But the 32-year-old wants desperately to help get his club into the playoffs for the first time in his career and the Mariners are closely monitoring his outings, particularly after he was knocked out with seven runs in 2 2/3 innings his previous start in Anaheim.

Hernandez acknowledged he's never been in this kind of position before in his career, having his starting role on the team questioned.

"They can question whatever they want," he said. "I know who I am and that's all I've got to say."

This outing was better, the only runs coming on a bases-loaded two-run single by Devon Travis that skipped under the glove of third baseman Kyle Seager in the second. Hernandez got out of that jam by retiring the next two batters and escaped further trouble in the fourth after a leadoff double and walk.

Video: TOR@SEA: Travis drives in a pair on a single to left

Manager Scott Servais wasn't ready to commit to another start for Hernandez, but indicated he delivered what the club asked. The bigger concern on this night was an offense that remained quiet with a 1-for-10 night with runners in scoring position.

"Felix kept us in the game," Servais said. "It wasn't easy for him. He threw 92 pitches in five innings, but he did give us a chance and coming into the game that's what we were hoping for. He did compete. I didn't think his stuff was particularly sharp, but he made pitches and did get through it. Looking at where we're at and trying to get him back on track a little bit, he gave us a chance to win."

Nelson Cruz torched a pair of home runs and drove in all three runs, but that was all the offense Seattle could muster. Cruz ripped a two-run homer into the upper deck in left in the first and a solo shot in the eighth, giving him 28 home runs on the season and six in the last seven games.

Video: TOR@SEA: Cruz smashes 27th and 28th HRs, drives in 3

"We're going to have to score a little more than we have," Servais said. "Outside of Nelson Cruz tonight, there wasn't a ton to talk about offensively and it's been that way for awhile. It's where we're at. We know that. Guys are well aware. We've talked about how to get out of this funk. You have to find a way, you have to keep competing. It's got to turn. But it's not going to just happen. You have to make it happen."

Morales hit his two-run shot off Juan Nicasio in the seventh and Diaz did the same in the ninth off James Pazos as Toronto snapped a three-game skid to improve to 49-59.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Morales' go-ahead home run off Nicasio turned the late momentum to the Blue Jays as the Mariners setup man continued to struggle. Nicasio was the Mariners' primary offseason free-agent signing, but his ERA is now 6.00. He gave up five home runs in 72 1/3 innings last season with a 2.61 ERA, but has allowed six homers in 42 frames for Seattle.

Video: TOR@SEA: Morales crushes 2-run, go-ahead homer in 7th

"It's been up and down with Juan his first season here with us," Servais said. "On the high side of things, I think his stuff is much better than we've seen. The velocity and how the ball is coming out, but still the execution of pitches late in games like that has hurt him and it's hurt him a number of times this season. It's something we'll have to look at going forward. We've certainly added some guys to our bullpen that can take on a little bigger role. Trying to get them all going at the same time, it's just not happening right now."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Denard Span has been playing extremely well of late and the veteran left fielder made another good play at the top of the wall to help Hernandez out in the fourth. With two on and one out, Travis ripped a deep shot that Span hauled in right at the yellow line atop the fence, a drive projected at 372 feet by Statcast™. Hernandez then got Curtis Granderson on a tapper back to the mound to preserve a 2-2 tie.

Video: TOR@SEA: Span leaps at the left-field wall for grab

HE SAID IT
"It's not about individual performance, it's about winning. This was a tough one. We don't expect it to be easy. We know it'll be tough. We should be prepared for tomorrow. Ups and downs are part of the season. The whole team is positive. We believe in each other and still believe we can pull this off." -- Cruz, after his two-homer performance went for naught

UP NEXT
Marco Gonzales (12-5, 3.37 ERA) takes on Toronto lefty Ryan Borucki (0-2, 2.83) in Friday's 7:10 p.m. PT game at Safeco. The 26-year-old southpaw has emerged as Seattle's most-consistent starter and has gone 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA over his last five starts. This will be his first time facing the Blue Jays. 

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

Seattle Mariners, Felix Hernandez