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Mariners Get Caught Up In Watching Felix Hernandez, Forget To Notice Francisco Liriano

It's funny what a start like the one Felix Hernandez had last week against the Orioles does to a fan. Before that game, he'd turned in consecutive gems against the Red Sox and White Sox, but as soon as he struggled in Baltimore, those gems were forgotten. I know that, speaking for myself, while I wasn't exactly worried, I was definitely... I dunno, unsettled. That seems to fit. I didn't feel like something was wrong, but I felt like everything wasn't quite right, and I wanted it all to be right.

What I wanted to see out of Felix was another one of his dominant efforts. One of those starts where he goes eight or nine innings and mows through the opponent without giving it much of a chance to get anything going. If Felix could just throw one of those, I told myself, I could put all that uncertainty back in the cupboard where it belongs and resume feeling confident about the King.

So what better matchup than the godawful Minnesota Twins at Safeco Field? I had this game pegged as a glorious opportunity for Felix to get back on track, and sure enough, his final numbers were outstanding. Even with a rough first inning, Felix went eight, allowing three hits and three walks while striking out nine. Of the final 13 batters he faced, only two of them reached - one on a shot up the middle, and one on a bad choice by Brendan Ryan. With grounders, missed bats, and a lot of strikes after the first, tonight, Felix was superb, and he made me feel a lot better.

The only problem was that, in my haste to request a better effort from Felix, I forgot to request a better effort from the offense. So the offense wound up putting forth zero effort at all, managing all of three hits and a walk against Francisco Liriano, who came in having pitched so consistently poorly that even his no-hitter was a pile of crap. Liriano dominated with his changeup and slider and the M's had no answer. They also didn't have an answer to Glen Perkins, and I'm not sure Matt Capps even asked them a question. One run was all they would get, and one run wasn't enough support for Felix, who has now lost 16 of his last 31 decisions.

So on a night when I feel good about Felix bouncing back, I also feel lousy because the M's couldn't score, wasting an excellent start and blowing an opportunity to get out their tiny little demitasse brooms. The activation of Franklin Gutierrez makes me a bit less upset, just because we've known for a while that the M's have a bad lineup and Guti should give it a boost, but these games are hard to stomach when they don't come against the worst team in baseball. When they do, you're reminded that baseball games can't be predicted. Reminded in an annoying stupid way.

Tonight's selection of bullet holes:

  • It certainly looked in the early going like Felix was destined to have his second rough start in a row. He began by walking Denard Span on four pitches. Two batters later, he walked Jason Kubel on five, and Michael Cuddyer singled both the runners home on a first-pitch fastball up in the zone. Felix has never been known as the sort to sprint out of the gate, but this was an ugly first inning that saw him allow two runs and fall behind five of the six guys he faced.

    But it's worth remembering that, because of the rainouts, he had his start pushed back by a day, taking him out of his usual five-day routine for the first time all season. That could explain why he might've been overthrowing a little at first, and in any event, he settled down from there, and against a lineup with six guys batting left-handed. Granted, Twins, but Felix didn't do a whole lot wrong after his shaky start.

    His next outing is going to come against San Diego in San Diego, which is another soft draw that should allow him to build some momentum as he heads into his next assignment after that, against the Yankees. This weekend will provide a chance to get his ERA back under 3. We don't refer to ERA a whole lot in these parts, but I know where I like to see Felix's, and "3.23" ain't it.

  • Root Sports voiceover guy on tomorrow's broadcast:

    Perfect weather at the ballpark, and battling our division rival? Now that's baseball.

    Root Sports voiceover guy has strongly implied in the past that he watches the Mariners on TV. Which he should, since he's the Root Sports voiceover guy. Given that, why would Root Sports voiceover guy give two hoots about perfect weather at the ballpark? If anything, wouldn't that just make him jealous of the people at the ballpark? Is Root Sports voiceover guy taking a day away from the TV and catching the game in person? If so, does that mean I could conceivably meet Root Sports voiceover guy?

  • In the top of the seventh inning, Ben Revere got a high 1-0 fastball from Felix and lined it right back up the middle, with Felix falling down after nearly getting brained. I've mentioned it before but I swear to God this happens to Felix more often than it happens to any other pitcher. It seems like once every three or four starts he'll have a ball just barely avoid imprinting a permanent seam tattoo on his retina. It's fine for now. Right now, it's amazing how quickly Felix is always able to get out of the way. But reaction time tends to slow down as we age, so I am terrified of Felix when he's 30, if he gets to turn 30.

  • CB Bucknor was behind the plate, doing his usual CB Bucknor things. The one thing he did that stood out to me was his punchout of Alexi Casilla in the seventh. On a 2-2 count, Felix threw Casilla a fastball just outside off the plate that Bucknor called strike three. But he didn't just call it strike three; he called it strike three immediately, practically beginning his punchout motion while the ball was still in flight. It was like Bucknor predetermined that he was going to call Casilla out if he took a pitch. If Bucknor is out there predetermining his judgments, that means that other umpires might also be predetermining their judgments. I may have stumbled upon a way to explain umpires.

  • Brandon League made his return to the mound in the ninth inning after taking Saturday, and Sunday, and Monday to think about what he did. His inning of work wasn't anything special. He wasn't great, he wasn't bad, and while he walked Michael Cuddyer on 12 pitches to lead off, all of his pitches were right around the lower edge of the zone, barely missing if they were missing at all.

    But while League's results weren't remarkable, his approach most certainly was. Because during the Cuddyer at bat, League threw a few sliders. They were, I believe, the first sliders he's thrown all season. Until tonight, 2011 Brandon League had been a two-pitch pitcher. Tonight, he threw three pitches.

    Given the weekend post about how Brandon League is rather predictable, this was a good thing to see. He still started all three hitters off with fastballs, but by incorporating a third pitch - if he continues to do so - he'll give hitters another thing to think about, making them less prepared for his fastball and splitter. League's slider isn't a great one and he doesn't need to throw a whole bunch of them, but if he can use it just often enough to keep it in peoples' minds, it should work to his benefit.

  • Yesterday, I remarked that you could learn everything you need to know about the Twins' pitching staff from Scott Baker's four-pitch walk of Miguel Olivo. Miguel Olivo drew two more walks tonight. He actually drew the Mariners' only two walks tonight. I think Miguel Olivo is broken. I wonder if he was standing behind Felix in practice one day when somebody hit a comebacker.

  • The bottom of the ninth was not without its controversy. With one out and Olivo on first, Jack Cust hit a slow grounder to Danny Valencia, and Valencia opted to try to get Olivo at second instead of going for the easy out at first. It looked to the eye that Olivo beat the throw pretty easily, but Jerry Meals disagreed, and I erupted with strong words of disapproval on my sofa until a slow frame-by-frame replay showed that Meals got the call right after all. Now I feel embarrassed.

    Because it was such a close play at such a critical moment, Eric Wedge came charging out of the dugout, stood in Meals' face, and got himself ejected. He then hung around a little while to get his money's worth like all managers do before trudging away all angry-like. It was all shouting and pointing and shouting and pointing.

    The whole one-sided argument went on for several seconds. I don't feel like booting up to count just how many specifically, but it was a pretty long argument, and I couldn't help but wonder what Wedge had to say after he spat out his first two or three sentences.

    Wedge: HE WAS SAFE!
    Wedge: RIGHT THERE

Jason Vargas and Jered Weaver tomorrow night at the same time. This'll be a good opportunity for the M's to make up some ground on a team directly in front of them in the standings. Of course, they'll also be facing Jered Weaver a day after they couldn't do a thing against Francisco Liriano, who came in with an ERA sponsored by Boeing. Save us, Guti.