Ray Chavez / Bay Area News Group

A's starter A.J. Griffin reacts after surrendering Henry Blanco's grand slam, putting the Mariners ahead 4-0. Blanco, 41, was just signed Friday by Seattle.

Mariners' ace Hernandez overwhelms A's hitters

Published: Sunday, Jun. 16, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2013 - 9:19 am

OAKLAND – With one out in the fifth inning of a scoreless game Saturday and Jed Lowrie standing on third base, A's outfielder Chris Young lifted a routine fly ball to right-center field. The ball was fairly shallow, but Lowrie tagged up anyway and bolted for the plate. With time to set himself, Mariners right fielder Endy Chavez made a strong one-hop throw home, and catcher Henry Blanco tagged Lowrie on the shoulder as Lowrie slid by.

"I tried to get around him and I don't think I ever touched the plate," Lowrie said. "It wasn't that deep of a fly ball. But we've got to take that chance in that situation because of the way he was pitching today. As it ended up, it was our only chance to score."

"He," of course, was right-hander Felix Hernandez, the Seattle ace and perennial thorn in the A's side behind whom the Mariners won 4-0 on Saturday to hand the A's their first series loss since mid-May. Hernandez threw seven shutout innings and now has thrown 14 2/3 scoreless innings against the A's this season, with eight hits and 16 strikeouts.

Both starts came at O.co Coliseum, where Hernandez is 8-2 with a 2.64 ERA in 16 career starts. In 28 career games against the A's, the 27-year-old from Venezuela has gone at least seven innings without allowing a run in one-fourth of them.

John Jaso, who was behind the plate for Hernandez's perfect game last season in Seattle and caught his counterpart A.J. Griffin on Saturday, called it a case of "boring Felix … He goes out there and throws up zeroes and nobody's hitting."

"Boring Felix," Jaso explained, typically appears when "his changeup is moving and he's cutting and sinking his fastball, throwing his curveball. (As a hitter) it's tough to get comfortable in the box.

"When he's throwing his changeup hard, it gets a lot of bad swings. When the changeup starts dropping down to 86, 87 miles per hour, that's when it gets hit. But when it's at 89 to 90, that's when it's at its best."

Case in point was the seventh inning Saturday, after the A's, down 4-0 after a sixth-inning grand slam by the 41-year-old Blanco, put the first two batters of the inning on base ahead of top hitter Josh Donaldson. Donaldson worked a nine-pitch at-bat but swung over a 90-mph pitch that dove toward the dirt for strike three.

Because of the velocity, live pitch tracking on MLB.com registered the pitch as a fastball, despite its obvious movement. Hernandez then threw two changeups to Lowrie, who hit into an inning-ending double play on the second.

"He put it in a great spot," Lowrie said. "I asked (hitting coach Chili Davis) afterward if he thought that was a strike and he said yeah. Just the bottom dropped out of it."

Lowrie had doubled in the fifth for his second career hit off Hernandez in 15 at-bats. The first was a single the first time Lowrie faced Hernandez, in July 2008.

"When I first faced him, he still was getting guys out, but I think he's become more of a pitcher," Lowrie said. "First couple (of) times you knew you were going to get a bunch of hard stuff. And now he knows how to pitch, too, and still has that plus stuff.

"He seems to pitch around 91 with sink, and then the changeup just bottoms out, and he's got the breaking stuff, too. For me, I'm going up there, and if I get a pitch to hit, you try to put it in play. If he gets ahead of you, he's got so many different weapons."

Hernandez had five of his strikeouts in the first two innings. The A's made him work for them with deep counts, and he was at 42 pitches starting the third. Hernandez, though, averaged just more than 13 pitches in each of his final five innings to finish with 108.

All the support he needed came on one swing by Blanco, whom the Mariners had signed Friday. Griffin said the pitch – an inside fastball – was where he wanted to place it, which made the slam "easier to accept."

"But at the end of the day, it's four runs on one pitch, and when you're facing a guy like Felix, every run counts," Griffin said. "A little bit more, maybe you could even say."

Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. Read his Bay Area Baseball blog at blogs.sacbee.com/bay-area-baseball/. Follow him on Twitter @matthewkawahara.

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