SAN DIEGO -- As the Mariners arrived in San Diego, eager to make the most of a two-game Interleague series against a slumping last-place team before heading up to Oakland for a far more pivotal series, they turned to one of their most beloved franchise players, a hero -- or king, if you will -- of yesteryear.
Felix Hernandez notched his best start in over two months, allowing two earned runs over seven innings in his longest start since June 14.. He gave up just four hits, walked two and struck out nine -- a season high -- but the offense couldn't back him up, sputtering to a 2-1 loss against the Padres and falling even further behind the Astros and A's in the American League playoff push.
With the A's defeating the Astros, 4-3, in Houston, Seattle fell to 6 1/2 games back in the American League West behind the Astros and five games behind the A's for the second Wild Card spot.
Oakland will play Houston one more time before hosting the Mariners for a four-game series starting Thursday.
Hernandez looked more like his old self than he has for the majority of the season, one that has been undoubtedly frustrating for the six-time All-Star. He's seen his ERA balloon to over 5.00, considerably higher than his career 3.33 mark. He's been unable to pitch deep into games, and was even demoted to the bullpen for a brief while until James Paxton went on the disabled list. Now Hernandez is pitching "angry" and utilizing a few mechanical changes as he hopes to help lead his team to its first playoff appearance since 2001.
"I haven't had a win since June 30," Hernandez said. "It's tough. ... [I've made] mostly mechanical adjustments, but I'm still angry. This year has been tough, this year and a half. I just go out there and try to compete, and compete every time."
Hernandez didn't get off to an ideal start, as Padres leadoff hitter Travis Jankowski took the first pitch Hernandez offered and sent it over the right-field wall. He would recover nicely, though, retiring the next 10 batters before giving up a one-out double to William Myers in the fourth. Myers would come around to score two batters later on Hunter Renfroe's RBI single. It would be just enough to saddle Hernandez with the hard-luck loss.
"I thought Felix threw the ball really well," manager Scott Servais said. "The home run to lead off the game, the first pitch, he didn't get that where he wanted to, but other than that he controlled the strike zone very well. I thought the curveball was pretty effective tonight.
"Coming into a ball game and getting seven innings out of Felix and two runs, you feel really good about our chances," he added. "We just didn't get it done offensively."
The Mariners were unable to solve Padres rookie Jacob Nix for the majority of the game, as the right-hander shut out Seattle for 8 1/3 innings on 79 pitches in his fourth Major League start. Nix was on the mound for the ninth inning in hopes of becoming the first San Diego pitcher to notch a complete game this season, but Nelson Cruz uncorked a solo shot into the San Diego bullpen for his 32nd homer of the year to spoil the shutout and complete-game bid.
The blast came too little, too late for Seattle, though. Padres closer Kirby Yates retired Denard Span on a groundout and struck out Kyle Seager to end the game. It was the only strikeout the Mariners lineup recorded all game.
"It's one thing if you're chasing the ball out of the strike zone," Servais said. "We were putting the ball in play and put some pretty good swings on it, but it was [Nix's] night tonight."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Interleague woes: Mike Zunino and Dee Gordon knocked back-to-back singles twice -- in the third and fifth innings -- to put runners on for the ninth hole hitter. But because the Mariners were playing in a National League park, that hitter was Hernandez. Both times Hernandez tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt, and each resulted in a double play.
"We had a couple innings there where we didn't execute the sacrifice bunt," Servais said. "We don't do that a lot in our league. ... Those are two big, big plays that we had."
Zunino led off the third inning with the Mariners' first hit of the night, and Gordon followed. But Hernandez bunted a hard grounder straight back to Nix, who turned a double play. The same thing happened in the fifth inning, and although Hernandez's bunt came at more of an angle to third, Nix was still able to field the ball cleanly and initiate another double play.
"The first one was bunted probably a bit too hard, right back at the pitcher," Servais said. "The second one he tried to do right, bunt the ball toward third base and come in and field it, just didn't get it close enough to the line. I thought the pitcher made two really nice plays there."
Hernandez took the brunt of the responsibility, saying he did his job on the mound but that was it.
"The first bunt was bad -- that was my fault," he said. "The second one I think I did pretty good. The pitcher moved pretty fast."
Hernandez made his 400th career start with the Mariners Tuesday, becoming one of 18 pitchers in the live-ball era to maintain an ERA below 3.50 in their first 400 starts with a single club.
It's Erasmo Ramirez on the hill for the Mariners at Petco Park, slotting up one day in the rotation to take the place of injured Marco Gonzales. Ramirez has been quite formidable since his return from a three-month stint on the disabled list. He's pitched at least five innings in his three starts and has been tagged for just two earned runs. He'll take on Padres rookie Joey Lucchesi, with first pitch scheduled for 12:40 p.m. PT.