Felix Hernandez’s drive for 20 victories lives on after the Seattle Mariners pounded their way to a 9-2 victory over the Texas Rangers on Sunday at Globe Life Park.
Robinson Cano’s three-run homer keyed a six-run fifth inning that enabled Hernandez to improve to 18-9 with two starts remaining. There is some concern, though.
Hernandez exited because of a stiff elbow with two outs in the sixth inning. The ailment isn’t believed to be serious; Mariners officials expect him to make his next start Friday against the Angels in Anaheim, California.
“It got a little stiff,” Hernandez said, “but that’s not a big deal. I’ll be throwing my next start. Not at all (concerned). It’s been worse before. I’ll be fine.”
The move was, primarily, a precaution. Hernandez was already at 105 pitches. Even so, this is the King. He’ll be monitored closely over the next few days.
“Felix got a little stiff from the long inning,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He really couldn’t get it back to where he wanted. I wasn’t going to take any chances.”
So McClendon went to the bullpen. Tony Zych replaced Hernandez and stranded two runners by striking out pinch hitter Josh Hamilton.
Hernandez’s final line for 5 2/3 innings showed two runs and four hits along with five walks and five strikeouts. He needs 15 strikeouts in his final two starts to reach 200 for a seventh consecutive year.
But when it comes to personal numbers, 20 victories is what he wants.
“That’s what every pitcher wants — to win 20 games,” said Hernandez, whose current career best is 19 victories in 2009. “I’ve got two more (starts), and I’m going to do whatever I can do to win those two.”
As the rotation lines up, those two starts will be Friday against the Angels and Sept. 30 against Houston at Safeco Field. No Mariners pitcher has won 20 games since Jamie Moyer had 21 in 2003.
“(Hernandez) should be (at 20 victories) every year,” Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager said. “As good as he is, and as good as he throws year in and year out, it falls on the offense for why he’s not there every single year.”
There was plenty of offense Sunday against Texas starter Derek Holland (3-3) and the Rangers’ bullpen. The Mariners collected 14 hits, including three by Seager, but the big blow was Cano’s homer in the fifth.
“We knew today was going to be a tough day,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “We had (Hernandez) where his pitch count was kind of in our favor, and you saw some frustration in him along the way.
“But once he got the lead, he does what he always does.”
The Mariners broke a 2-2 tie with their six-run fifth inning after Stefen Romero led off with a double to left. Romero moved to third on Jesus Sucre’s sacrifice before Holland walked Ketel Marte.
Seager then lashed a two-run double into the right-field corner.
An intentional walk to Nelson Cruz set up a double play — and the Mariners hit into three of them in the first four innings. But Cano wrecked the strategy by booming a homer to right.
“(Holland) is filthy,” Cano said, “and he doesn’t waste his time on the mound. That (slider) stayed up in the middle of the plate, and I was ready to take advantage of that one.”
The Mariners led, 7-2.
Russ Ohlendorf replaced Holland and immediately surrendered a homer to Franklin Gutierrez that just cleared the right-field wall. After that, it was just a matter of counting down outs.
Hernandez worked around a one-out walk in the Texas fifth, but walked two more in the sixth. When he started shaking his arm, McClendon went to the mound with assistant trainer Rob Nodine.
“I said, ‘What’s going on?’ ” McClendon said. “He said, ‘It’s a little stiff.’ I said, ‘Give me the ball.’ ”
After Zych closed the sixth, the Mariners got one scoreless inning apiece from Joe Beimel, Danny Farquhar and Logan Kensing in securing Hernandez’s league-leading 18th victory.
The bullpen combined to retire the final 10 Rangers as the Mariners improved to 73-77. With 12 games remaining, they trail Houston by six games for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
“We’ve got to keep winning,” Hernandez said. “That’s all we can do. We’ve got to keep playing good baseball and keep winning.”
TUESDAY: Seattle (RHP Hisashi Iwakuma, 8-4, 3.90 ERA) at Kansas City (RHP Jeremy Guthrie, 8-7, 5.55), 5:10 p.m. Root Sports, 710-AM, 1030-AM