Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.
April 16, 2008 11:00 PM
Posted by Geoff Baker
Fans file out of a quiet McAfee Coliseum after Felix Hernandez and the Mariners take a 4-2 win over the Oakland A's.
A vote of confidence shown Hernandez in that ninth inning when manager John McLaren sent him back out there with a pitch count at 108. But Hernandez was still hitting 97 m.p.h. on the ballpark radar gun in the eighth and the A's weren't exactly tatooing him.
"He's a fierce competitor,'' McLaren said. "I can tell you, he really wants it. That's what you like to see. You want to see guys who like to close out games and he's got that in him.''
Hernandez wanted this one when McLaren asked him about it after eight. This wasn't Baltimore, where Hernandez was working on short rest from a between-starts bullpen session and didn't have the arm strength to finish.
"In the eighth inning, he asked me 'How do you feel?','' Hernandez said of McLaren, who'd seen his starter throw 108 pitches through eight frames. "I said 'Good, I can come back. You don't take me out.' "
I counted four bloop singles out of the eight hits managed by Oakland though those eight innings. In other words, Hernandez was feeling strong. He looked strong in the ninth, closing out the victory by retiring the side in order.
Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima said the guy he saw on the mound was different from the 2007 version of Hernandez. When he fell behind 3-0 on Mike Sweeney in the ninth, Johjima thought of calling for a walk. That would have brought Arthur Rhodes into the game and the tying run to the plate.
"But he came up with good pitches on the corner of the plate,'' Johjima said. "And that's what helped us get through.''
Sweeney grounded out to end the game.
Think back to the first inning, when a pair of bloop hits had Hernandez in trouble. He rebounded to get a double-play grounder by Sweeney.
That eighth inning, with Oakland's only earned run scoring on another blooped hit, could have gone far worse. Until Hernandez snared the Mark Ellis comebacker to begin another double play.
Hernandez didn't always respond so well to bad breaks last season.
"He still gets very emotional,'' Johjima said. "That's his pitching style and I believe that's good. It's when you get too emotional that you start to lose yourself. You can't control yourself at times.''
Hernandez was in control tonight. He has been all season.
"I think that he's grown up a lot this past year,'' Johjima said.
Let's end on that note.