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Cruz clubs 2 HRs, but Mariners get little else

MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

ANAHEIM -- The good news for the Mariners: Nelson Cruz has officially heated back up.

The bad? Another rough start for Felix Hernandez made that point moot Saturday as the Angels jumped on the veteran right-hander early and often en route to an 11-5 rout of a struggling Seattle club that has lost 11 of its past 16 games.

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ANAHEIM -- The good news for the Mariners: Nelson Cruz has officially heated back up.

The bad? Another rough start for Felix Hernandez made that point moot Saturday as the Angels jumped on the veteran right-hander early and often en route to an 11-5 rout of a struggling Seattle club that has lost 11 of its past 16 games.

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Cruz slammed a pair of solo home runs, giving him three in the first two days of the series after coming into the weekend without an extra-base hit for 15 straight games.

But Hernandez's continued woes stood as the major storyline for a Seattle club that must decide if it wants to add rotation help prior to Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline. The 32-year-old lasted just 2 2/3 innings while allowing seven runs on six hits and two walks in his shortest start since going two innings on April 25, 2017.

Video: SEA@LAA: Hernandez strikes out Simmons for 1st K

"We have to wait and see," Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Hernandez's situation. "We've put ourselves in a position where we have a chance to fight for a playoff spot. Every time out there you have to be competitive and give your team a chance to win. We just haven't had that from Felix the last couple times out."

Hernandez landed on the disabled list following his two-inning start last year against the Tigers with inflammation in his shoulder. His health has been better this year, other than some recent lower back stiffness, but the results have grown alarming for a team fighting for a postseason berth.

"That was my worst performance," Hernandez said. "It was embarrassing. I have to do something better than this. That's all I've got to say."

Hernandez dropped to 8-9 with a career-high 5.58 ERA in 21 starts. He's posted a 4.06 ERA at Safeco Field, but his road ERA of 7.58 is the highest of any MLB starter with more than 33 innings pitched this season.

Video: SEA@LAA: Heredia hits a solo jack in the 8th

Hernandez said his back wasn't an issue, it was simply poor execution and location of his pitches as he lost his third straight outing.

"It's really difficult and really frustrating. I have to do something," he said.

The situation is even more difficult for a team that has ridden Hernandez's back for years without making the playoffs, but now finds itself pushing for a playoff with its former ace struggling to contribute.

"I don't think it's a simple conversation with anybody, let alone what Felix has done here throughout his career," Servais said. "We saw some good stuff in the first half, and he certainly had more than handful of outings that were very good against very good ball clubs. You saw the command of the fastball and life on his pitches. We just haven't seen that here the last couple times out."

Video: SEA@LAA: Vogelbach single up the middle for an RBI

The loss dropped Seattle to 61-43, still five back of the Astros in the American League West and one ahead of the A's for the final AL Wild Card spot after both teams also lost for the second straight day. The Mariners have averaged just 3.2 runs a game over their 5-11 skid while being outscored 83-51.

The Mariners hold that second Wild Card spot despite having a minus-6 run differential for the year. The last team to make the playoffs with a negative run differential was the 2007 D-backs.

Cruz's two home runs lifted his season total to 25. The 38-year-old's first was a shot off the left-field foul pole leading off the second inning, projected at 392 feet by Statcast™, and his second was a 418-foot blast into the center-field rocks at Angel Stadium.

Video: SEA@LAA: Seager throws Cruz out at home

"That's a good sign," Servais said. "Nelson hit two balls on the screws tonight and some other guys are starting to come out of it a little bit. But we've got to shake it. We lost the last couple games here and have not played well. Tonight we just didn't pitch well from the beginning, but we have a lot of baseball left to play."

SOUND SMART
Cruz now has 49 career homers against the Angels, tied with Rafael Palmeiro for the second-most of any player. Alex Rodriguez has the most with 70. Cruz has hit 85 road home runs since 2015, the most in the Majors. Edwin Encarnacion is second on that list with 76.

HE SAID IT
"When you struggle, it seems like everything goes the wrong way. We've been through this before. I don't think there's any reason we don't come out of it." -- Cruz, on the Mariners' recent slide

UP NEXT
Marco Gonzales (11-5, 3.38 ERA) faces Angels right-hander Felix Pena (1-1, 3.34) in Sunday's 1:07 p.m. PT series finale at Angel Stadium. Gonzales leads the Mariners in wins and is 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in four starts vs. the Halos this year. The 26-year-old southpaw threw seven scoreless innings with just two hits in his only start in Anaheim this year, a 3-0 victory on July 11.

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

Seattle Mariners, Nelson Cruz