Hernandez, the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner, was going for his 100th career victory on Saturday afternoon at windy U.S. Cellular Field. Axelrod, who was chosen to take John Danks' spot in the White Sox rotation, had three career wins entering the contest.
But in the White Sox 4-3 victory before 22,461, it was Axelrod who basically out-pitched his heralded opponent. And Alex Rios hit a two-run blast off Hernandez to aid the cause.
Axelrod didn't get the decision, but did hold the Mariners without an earned run over 5 2/3 innings to help the White Sox end a two-game losing streak.
Despite facing four left-handed-hitters and two switch-hitters in the Mariners' starting lineup, Axelrod, a righty, limited them to three hits while striking out three and walking two.
"I threw a lot of fastballs in. I was trying to stand them up and go fastballs in and soft away for the most part," said Axelrod, who departed after 97 pitches. "I don't throw the ball in that much. I think that might be the report on me. So just to make them aware of that was big."
"He did awesome, and honestly it's not a surprise," said White Sox closer Addison Reed after a perfect ninth finished off his third save in three chances. "I know what he has and what he's capable of. That was a good game. Against Felix makes it even better."
Saturday's win went to Donnie Veal in relief, as he pitched a hitless inning with two strikeouts. But Axelrod understood there wasn't much margin for error against Hernandez. He kept the Mariners from scoring any more in the second after a Raul Ibanez double, Hector Gimenez passed ball and Jeff Keppinger's error at first base on Dustin Ackley's tricky hopper that gave Seattle a 1-0 lead.
It took a little work for Axelrod to dance out of trouble in the fifth, after Justin Smoak's single and Ackley's walk. But Kelly Shoppach failed on two bunt attempts and eventually struck out, and Conor Gillaspie turned Brendan Ryan's grounder into a double play when he grabbed the ball on a dive toward the line, stepped on third base and fired to first.
"You couldn't tell what he's thinking by what's going on out there," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said of Axelrod. "It doesn't matter the situation. He's under control. He's very confident. Very composed for a young pitcher, but also he knows what he's doing. He's confident."
"They got that one early and I just wanted to keep them there," Axelrod said. "I feel like we were going to get at least one, you know. Obviously it's a tough matchup coming in. My goal is to keep us in the game and see what we could do off of Hernandez. Once we got his pitch count up, we were able to get to him a little bit."
Rios' two-run homer in the sixth and Alejandro De Aza's sacrifice fly in the seventh provided the bulk of the White Sox scoring, and they held off the Mariners despite Michael Saunders' two-run, opposite-field homer off of Matt Thornton into the 25-mph jet stream in the eighth. But Gillaspie played an important role both with the glove and the bat in the White Sox 12th victory in their last 14 games against the Mariners.
Gillaspie lead off the bottom of the fifth with a triple to right, his first hit with the White Sox and first career triple, and scored on Gimenez's sacrifice fly. Gillaspie barely beat the throw home from Saunders, sliding in between the legs of Shoppach. He also scored on De Aza's fly ball after singling to start the seventh.
"He threw a couple of balls over the plate and you can't miss pitches against a guy like that because you're probably going to get out if you do," Gillaspie said. "I got a little bit lucky. I got a couple of pretty good pitches to hit and I didn't miss them."
Hernandez fell to 3-5 lifetime against the White Sox. He also dropped to 1-5 over eight starts at U.S. Cellular, with 11 homers allowed in 48 inning. He is 0-2 with a 6.50 ERA over his last three starts in Chicago.
A hanging changeup to Rios basically transferred the spotlight from one of the game's best pitchers to a White Sox hurler who has followed a six-year odyssey to get his chance to start.
"My command was not there," said Hernandez, who allowed four runs on six hits over 6 1/3 innings, while fanning three and walking two. "I was just trying to make good pitches, but the wind was hard. There was just one mistake, the homer, that was about it. It was a changeup and I was trying to go down, but it didn't work. It was a good call, but a bad changeup."
"When you put a good swing on a mistake like that and do some damage, that's pretty good," Rios said. "He probably didn't mean to leave it where he left it, but that was the only mistake he made."