The one team that has given Felix Hernandez more trouble in his career than any other is the Texas Rangers.
Just not these Texas Rangers, who will enter Sunday with the worst team batting average in the major leagues.
To put Hernandez up against these Texas Rangers just isn’t a fair fight.
Hernandez allowed only two hits and struck out 12 in seven innings Saturday, and the Seattle Mariners finally broke through against Colby Lewis en route to a 3-1 victory at Safeco Field.
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The Rangers’ lineup featured six hitters batting below .200, which was actually two more than won the series opener Friday night. But the Rangers were facing a far higher class of pitcher in Hernandez, and it showed.
“You guys know Felix Hernandez, right?” designated hitter Shin-Soo Choo said. “He’s one of the best, consistent pitchers in the league. He never gives you a lot of runs.”
Hernandez yielded one, on an RBI groundout by Elvis Andrus after Jake Smolinski had been hit by a pitch and gone to third on a single by Leonys Martin.
Martin was the only Rangers player to collect a hit. He doubled off the glove of first baseman Logan Morrison to start the game and went to second on a sac bunt by Andrus.
But Prince Fielder, who entered the game as the Rangers’ hottest hitter, grounded to second with the infield drawn in to prevent Martin from scoring. After Adrian Beltre was hit by a pitch, Choo become the first of Hernandez’s strikeout victims.
“What he always does,” Fielder said when asked what made Hernandez so good. “he doesn’t give up many mistakes. He keeps the ball down, and it’s hard to drive it.”
The Rangers wanted to build Hernandez’s pitch count and get him out of the game early before he got on a roll. That game plan never materialized.
Instead, they finished the game 2 for 28 with 15 strikeouts, and are batting .201 after 12 games. That’s one point worse than Houston.
With two hits, Martin boosted his average to .184. Andrus is batting .163. Rougned Odor is batting .158. Beltre, mired in an 0-for-17 skid, is at .140. Choo is at .138.
“We are facing good pitchers,” said Fielder, whose average dropped to .383 after going 0 for 4. “That’s part of it.”
But that can’t be all of it, can it?
“Absolutely,” manager Jeff Banister said. “This is one of the premier pitchers in all of baseball.”
Despite the struggles, the Rangers remain confident in their offense and remain mindful that they still have 150 games left this season.
“We can get hot,” Choo said. “I’m not really worried about who’s hitting good and who’s not. We trust everybody 1 through 9.”
The Rangers were still in the game, tied at 1-1, when Mike Zunino hit the first pitch from Colby Lewis (1-1) for a home run. Lewis returned for the sixth and was an out away from escaping down only 2-1, but Brad Miller ripped a triple down the first-base line to score Kyle Seager from third base.
Lewis allowed 10 hits and walked two.
“There wasn’t one inning that was very easy tonight,” he said. “It seems like I was always pitching out of the stretch and had somebody on base.”
Hernandez, though, didn’t have a tough night against the worst hitting team in the majors.
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Pitching: Colby Lewis (1-1) allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings, a decent result after allowing 10 hits and two walks. … Mike Zunino, who was batting .118, took Lewis deep to start the fifth after the Rangers had just pulled even at 1-1. … Roman Mendez flirted with disaster in the sixth, unable to find the strike zone, but recovered to strike out three of the final four he faced. … Keone Kela made his first appearance at Seattle, where he attended high school and junior college, and worked a scoreless eighth.
Hitting: The Rangers struck out 15 times. Even Prince Fielder was victimized, snapping an MLB-best streak of 41 straight plate appearances without a strikeout. … The only player who had a hit was Leonys Martin, who doubled to start the game and added single in the fifth. … The Rangers’ run was scored by Jake Smolinski, who was hit on the hand in the fifth and later scored on a grounder by Elvis Andrus. ... Adrian Beltre went 0 for 3. He is hitless in his past 17 at-bats and is batting .140.
Notable: Manager Jeff Banister was successful with a replay challenge for the second straight night. A safe call at second base on a pickoff try by catcher Robinson Chirinos was turned into a big out in the third after Brad Miller led off with a single and stole second. ... Hernandez improved to 13-21 in his career vs. the Rangers.