There was little to separate Felix Hernandez and Detroit’s Justin Verlander over the first seven innings Tuesday at Safeco Field. The two long-time aces matched one another in a throwback pitchers’ duel.
Then Nelson Cruz crushed a fastball from Tigers reliever Justin Wilson with one out in the eighth inning that lifted the Mariners to a 3-1 victory and a three-game sweep.
Leonys Martin’s two-out RBI single provided an insurance run for Nick Vincent, who closed out the game because the Mariners wanted to stay away from rookie closer Edwin Diaz.
Hernandez and Verlander were magnificent but each settled for a no-decision. Archimedes Caminero (1-0) got the victory for pitching a one-two-three eighth inning when Nick Vincent closed out the game.
Vincent got his second save of the season — in just his second appearance since returning from a 32-game stay on the disabled list. Diaz had pitched in six of the previous eight games.
Wilson (2-4) was the loser.
Kyle Seager followed Cruz’s homer with a single and went to second on a two-out walk to Adam Lind before Martin flicked a soft single into left field.
The victory extended the Mariners’ season-high winning streak to six games and completed an 8-2 homestand. They improved to 60-53 and pulled to within 1 1/2 games of Boston in the race for the final wild-card berth.
The Mariners had a chance to get the lead for Hernandez in the seventh inning after Martin led off with a single, but Ketel Marte fouled off two attempts at a sacrifice bunt before popping out to center.
Verlander then held the tie by retiring Nori Aoki and Seth Smith on fly balls to left.
That left Hernandez with a no-decision after limiting Detroit to one run and three hits in seventh innings. He struck out eight and walked four while throwing a season-high 117 pitches.
Caminero replaced Hernandez to start the eighth inning — and his first pitch was 3 feet outside and went untouched to the backstop. No matter. Caminero worked a one-two-three inning.
And that ensured Verlander would also get a no-decision after holding the Mariners to one run and seven hits in seven innings. He struck out six and walked two while throwing a season-high 121 pitches.
Wilson replaced Verlander to start the Mariners’ eighth. Wilson retired Robinson Cano on a fly to deep right, but Cruz followed with a 422-foot drive to center.
Hernandez opened the game with his first one-two-three first inning in five starts since returning from the disabled list. He had allowed three runs in three of the previous four.
The Mariners grabbed a 1-0 lead on Cano’s two-out homer in the first inning, a 369-foot slicing drive to left on a 1-2 change-up from Verlander.
Hernandez pitched around leadoff singles in the second and third innings but paid for a leadoff walk in the fourth to Ian Kinsler, who stole second — on a overturned call after a replay.
Kinsler moved to third on Tyler Collins’ grounder to first but held on Miguel Cabrera’s fly to short right. After Victor Martinez walked, J.D. Martinez yanked an RBI single through the left side.
The Mariners opened the fifth inning with singles by Aoki and Smith. Aoki moved to third on Cano’s fly to right, but Cruz grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Hernandez lost a 13-pitch battle to Cabrera with two outs in the sixth. Cabrera drew a walk after fouling off six 3-2 pitches. Hernandez then walked Victor Martinez after jumping ahead 1-2 in the count.
The Tigers stranded both runners when J.D. Martinez struck out, but the 28-pitch inning pushed Hernandez’s total to 103.
Notebook: Even before Tuesday’s 15-inning marathon, manager Scott Servais acknowledged it was a matter of time before the Mariners returned to a seven-man bullpen.
Servais also strongly hinted the odd-man out was likely to be outfielder Guillermo Heredia — despite Heredia’s plus skills in several areas.
“I love what Heredia has brought to our team,” Servais said. “The flexibility to play defense late and to start against left-handed pitching. I don’t know how long we’ll be able to carry that. It’s a luxury item.
“Eventually, you do need to have the depth in your bullpen. As long as our starters keep going deep, we’re OK. But, eventually, we probably will need to go back to 12 pitchers.”
Eventually arrived Wednesday, one day after the Mariners burned through their entire bullpen before pulling out a 6-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers.
The Mariners optioned Heredia to Triple-A Tacoma in order to select the contract of right-hander Jarrett Grube from the Rainiers. Grube was scratched earlier Wednesday from a scheduled start against Sacramento (Giants) at Cheney Stadium.
To clear space for Grube, 34, on the Mariners’ 40-man roster, utility infielder Luis Sardinas was designated for assignment.
Heredia, 25, was 7 for 25 (.280 with a .379 on-base percentage) in 12 games following his July 29 recall from Tacoma. He batted a combined .309 with a .399 OBP in 84 games at Tacoma and Double-A Jackson prior to his recall.
“I think he’s a major league player now,” Servais said. “He plays into our future, and he’ll be back here at some point.”
The Mariners signed Heredia, a Cuban defector, on March 1.
Grube was 1-2 with a 3.97 ERA in 10 games, including eight starts, at Tacoma. He signed a minor league deal June 9 with the Mariners, one day after being released by Cleveland after going 0-3 with a 4.43 ERA at Triple-A Columbus.
“He was the guy who was available,” Servais said. “It was his day to start in Tacoma today. He’s the freshest arm, and we certainly need some help tonight if this game gets crazy at all.”
That suggests Grube’s time with the Mariners might be limited. He is not viewed as a rotation candidate, and the Mariners are likely to make another move prior to Friday to add a starting pitcher.
Grube realizes this, too. His only previous big-league experience occurred in a similar situation: in 2014 for the Los Angeles Angels, when he gave up one run in two-thirds of an inning at Oakland.
“It’s a great feeling (to be back in the big leagues),” he said, “but it’s not really about me today. It’s more (a matter) of coming up here and trying to help the team by providing some coverage.”
Grube is 71-58 in 13 minor league seasons with a 4.36 ERA in 371 games, including 156 starts.
Sardinas, 23, became expendable after the Mariners acquired utilityman Mike Freeman in an Aug. 1 waiver claim from Arizona. Sardinas batted .181 in 32 big-league games and .252 in 43 games at Tacoma.
“With what Freeman brings, and really, the emergence of Shawn O’Malley,” Servais said, “it created a different scenario. Shawn handled shortstop pretty well.”
The Mariners have 10 days to trade, release or (if he clears waivers) send Sardinas to the minors on an outright assignment. The Mariners acquired him from Milwaukee in an Nov. 20, 2015 trade for outfielder Ramon Flores.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners