SEATTLE -- If the Mariners are going to make a surge in the second half, they saw exactly what will be needed in Sunday's 4-0 win over the A's. And that started with the guy on the mound, Felix Hernandez, throwing six shutout innings and looking a lot like Felix
SEATTLE -- If the Mariners are going to make a surge in the second half, they saw exactly what will be needed in Sunday's 4-0 win over the A's. And that started with the guy on the mound, Felix Hernandez, throwing six shutout innings and looking a lot like Felix of the past.
The importance of that was certainly not lost on the King's compatriots.
"Felix is our ace," said Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz. "He's our head. If your head falls, everybody falls. So it's nice to see him perform like he did today."
Manager Scott Servais said it was "hands down the best effort and stuff Felix has had all year" as Hernandez allowed just two hits with a season-best eight strikeouts. Coupled with a 1-2-3 ninth from closer Edwin Diaz, those moments added considerable momentum for a team heading into the All-Star break with a disappointing 43-47 record.
"It was important for our club, obviously, to end on a high note here," Servais said before players headed all directions for their four-day break. "But for Felix going forward, we're going to need solid outings from him. It doesn't have to be nine shutout innings, but keep us in the ballgame. He certainly did that today. He brought his 'A' game.'"
Hernandez finished the half at 4-3 with a 4.44 ERA in nine starts, having missed two months with shoulder bursitis. Prior to Sunday's outing, he was 1-1 with a 5.50 ERA in three starts since his return, but even before the injury he hadn't been the same dominant ace of old.
This week, however, the 31-year-old spent time in a bullpen session reworking his throwing mechanics, trying to stay more on top of the ball and driving more downhill to increase his power. The result was significant, at least for this start.
"It was pretty good," said Hernandez. "That's what happens when you've got good stuff. I really liked what we did today. We scored four runs and my job is to put zeroes on the board. I'm happy with that."
A happy and healthy Hernandez would be a welcome sign for the Mariners down the stretch. The veteran headed to Miami after the game, not to be part of this year's All-Star Game, but to spend time with family at his offseason home.
The six-time All-Star and former Cy Young Award winner may not be at that level anymore, but that doesn't mean he won't be an integral part of the Mariners' efforts as they finish out this year.
"Things haven't been going well for him, because the bar is so high with what he's done throughout his career here," Servais said. "But he still has the ability and is a really good competitor. We saw that today. He stepped up. We saw it from the beginning of the game. He was into the game. We needed it. We needed to get him deep and give us a chance to win and six shutout, you can't ask much more than that.
"That's what he can do. He still has plenty of stuff to be a very effective starting pitcher in this league. But having that focus and understanding of where he's at is going to be really important for us going forward."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter [