Mariners ace Hernandez locks down host Pirates
A former American Leaguer, veteran infielder Brandon Inge had the most experience of any of the Pirates against Felix Hernandez, the Mariners' splendid right-hander who locked up in a duel with A.J. Burnett on Wednesday at PNC Park.
Inge, playing in the National League for the first time in his 13-year career, explained before the game the many elements that advanced King Felix into the realm of pitching royalty: His fastball, no longer the heater it once was, but how he controls it to move in different directions. His windup, where Hernandez turns his back “and all of a sudden the ball appears.” His five-pitch assortment and how he has mastered all of them. And his supreme confidence.
“You have to want it more than he does,” said Inge, who is 4 for 22 against Hernandez. “He's good. He knows he's good. He knows what he's doing out there. He's competitive. When you get out there, you have to take it upon yourself to really try and beat him.”
The Pirates gave it a try, and it worked — for one inning, the first. Starling Marte smacked Hernandez's second pitch for a double. After Travis Snider struck out, Andrew McCutchen singled on the first pitch, and it was 1-0. The Pirates never scored again and the Mariners came back to win, 2-1.
Admitting his stuff was merely OK, “I had to figure out a way to get people out,” said Hernandez, who cannily mixed his assortment of fastballs and breaking pitches. After Marte's double, Mariners catcher Jesus Montero said Hernandez gave the Pirates' budding star all five of his pitches during the same at-bat. Marte struck out on a curveball that no one could have handled.
“I knew it was gonna be hard because A.J. was nasty,” Hernandez said. “Get my command back and try to throw strikes, and that's what I did. ... They got me in the first inning, and it was, like, ‘OK, you've got to pitch better.' ”
Hernandez, 28, who signed a seven-year, $175 million contract extension during the offseason, won his fourth straight. He walked one and held the Pirates to six hits in eight innings, dropping his ERA to 1.53. He had 42 strikeouts in his 30 innings prior to the game but punched out only five Pirates.
“He just throws the ball and gets the outs,” Montero said. “That's what he cares about. That's what I care about. So what if you don't get that many strikeouts? Perfect. We win.”