Felix eyeing 20 wins despite stiff right elbow
Ace leaves Sunday's start early; becomes AL's 1st 18-game winner
ARLINGTON -- Despite being removed from Sunday's 9-2 win over the Rangers in the sixth inning due to a stiff right elbow, Mariners ace Felix Hernandez won his 18th game to retain a shot at his first 20-win season.
And, yeah, 20 wins is a significant goal for the 29-year-old right-hander, whose career high is 19. But he'll need to win his last two outings -- Friday in Anaheim and then a likely meeting with the A's in the final homestand -- to join Randy Johnson and Jamie Moyer as the only 20-game winners in Mariners history.
"That's what every pitcher wants, winning 20 games," Hernandez said. "I just need two more and I'll do whatever I can to win those two."
Hernandez threw 105 pitches and was nearing the end of his outing when trainer Rob Nodine and manager Lloyd McClendon hustled out to the mound after he walked Rangers catcher Bobby Wilson.
"I saw him wiggling his arm and [I] asked, 'what's going on,'" McClendon said. "He said, 'I'm just a little stiff,' so I said, 'Give me the ball.'"
Hernandez said he'll see how his elbow feels on Monday, but doesn't believe it's anything serious.
"It's not bad. It's a little stiff," he said. "I would say it was the long inning, that's why it got stiff. But it's not a big deal. I'll be fine for my next start. I've been worse before. I'll be fine."
Hernandez said the elbow felt a little tight the whole game, then stiffened during Seattle's six-run fifth. He wound up allowing four hits and two runs with five walks over his 5 2/3 innings, improving his record to 18-7 with a 3.54 ERA.
"He's been outstanding," McClendon said. "I wish he had a couple of those games back where he gave up a lot of runs unnecessarily. He might have been right in the mix of things for the Cy Young, but his ERA got up there."
Hernandez passed Houston's Dallas Keuchel for the AL lead in wins and is just one shy of the 19-5 record he posted in 2009. His teammates are well aware of his quest for 20.
"That's something where he should be there every year," said Kyle Seager. "As good as he is, year-in and year-out, it basically falls on the offense for why he's not up there every single year."
"That's every pitcher's dream, to win 20 games in the big leagues," said Robinson Cano. "He's deserves it. We all know he goes out there with pain or no pain, whatever it is, he's going to be out there every fifth day. I'm hoping and wishing he can get to 20 wins."
Hernandez is two wins shy of tying Moyer's franchise record of 145 career wins. He has already joined Randy Johnson (three) and Moyer (two) as the only Mariners pitchers with more than one 18-win season.
But Hernandez's aim at another milestone became slightly more difficult as he recorded just five strikeouts on Sunday, putting him at 185 on the season.
That means he needs 15 in his final two starts to reach 200 innings and 200 strikeouts for a seventh straight season, which would tie him with Roger Clemens and Walter Johnson for the second-longest such streak in MLB history. Tom Seaver had nine straight 200-200 seasons from 1968-76.
Hernandez's durability is part of what has made him great. Sunday was his 30th start of the season, giving him 11 straight seasons with 30-plus starts. The only other active pitchers who can say that are Mark Buehrle and Dan Haren, and he joins Hall of Famers Bert Blyleven, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson as the only pitchers since 1901 with 10 seasons of 30-plus starts by age 29.