Felix Hernandez was back to pitching like his typical, dominant self in his latest start until one bad inning and a disagreement with a home-plate umpire put a sour cap on an otherwise solid outing.
Despite a hasty exit from the game, Hernandez picked up his first win in more than a month in a 12-5 decision over the Rays, throwing 6 2/3 innings of four-run ball with eight hits on a balmy night at Safeco Field. His chance to be the first member of the Mariners' pitching staff to reach five wins comes in the series finale against the Twins on Sunday at Target Field.
But back to earlier this week: Hernandez had a four-hit shutout through six frames before the Rays got to him in the seventh. The Mariners ace wound up getting ejected by home-plate umpire Mark Ripperger as he left the field after being removed by manager Lloyd McClendon following a bases-loaded double from Tampa Bay catcher Ryan Hanigan.
Other than the way it ended, Hernandez was pleased with how he threw after going 0-1 with four no-decisions over his previous five starts. Hernandez opened the season with three consecutive wins and now sits at 4-1 with a 3.03 ERA. Opponents are hitting .237 against him and his WHIP is 1.11.
"I was feeling pretty good," Hernandez said of his previous start, in which he struck out seven and walked none. "My fastball was stronger, way better, and I was throwing a lot of strikes. And the breaking balls were working pretty good."
When Hernandez has all his pitches working, he is one of the best in the game. The Twins have seen that over the years, though they have battled him well. Hernandez is 6-5 with a 2.07 ERA in 15 starts against the Twins, including a 1-1 mark with a 1.69 ERA in two starts at Target Field.
Hernandez settled for a tough no-decision in his lone game against Minnesota last year when he held the Twins to five hits with no walks and 11 strikeouts on July 26 at Safeco Field, but he gave up a ninth-inning run that tied the game at 1. Minnesota rallied to win, 3-2, in 13 innings.
On Sunday, Twins right-handed veteran Ricky Nolasco will oppose Hernandez as he looks to earn his first win since beating the Rays on April 24.
Nolasco has thrown three consecutive quality starts with a 3.86 ERA over that span. His most recent outing came against the Red Sox on Tuesday, when he gave up three runs on six hits and a walk in a no-decision. He has also seen a recent increase in K-rate, striking out 15 batters over his past two starts.
He credited a mechanical adjustment for his recent turnaround after a slow start.
"It kind of just goes back to being more consistent with my front shoulder," Nolasco said. "I've been working in between with [pitching coach Rick] Anderson in between starts. The biggest thing is about being consistent with it."
Mariners: McClendon not worried about Cano's homer(s)
Robinson Cano averaged 28 home runs a year over the past five seasons for the Yankees, but entering Sunday he had just one in his first 41 games for the Mariners after signing a 10-year, $240 million deal. But manager Lloyd McClendon does not seem worried about that part of Cano's game, as the five-time All-Star is still hitting .303 with nine doubles and 23 RBIs.
"The guy hits," McClendon said. "He's like a guy that scores 20 points in basketball. You look up and say, 'How did he get those points?' It's the same thing with Robbie. You look up and he's hitting .300 and has nine or 10 doubles and 20-25 RBIs. His home runs will come, and they'll come in bunches."
Cano doubled high off the wall on an opposite-field blast in Friday's 5-4 loss to the Twins, and he hit a double off the yellow line atop the left-field fence in Safeco on Monday. McClendon said Cano was about four feet from having five or six home runs this year and that it was only a matter of time before he would have more.
"I don't think he is a prototypical home run hitter," McClendon said. "He'll hit home runs. But to say we want him up there thinking 40 jacks, no. He's a line-drive hitter that happens to hit home runs. And over the course of 600 at-bats, will it happen 25-28 times? Probably so. Like everything else, it all evens out."
Twins: Pelfrey fares well in rehab outing
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire received positive reports on right-hander Mike Pelfrey's first rehab start with Triple-A Rochester on Friday. Pelfrey, on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left groin since May 2, gave up a run on five hits and a walk over five innings against Triple-A Columbus. He threw 81 pitches, with 53 going for strikes, and will make at least one or two more starts with Rochester before rejoining the rotation.
"He threw the ball well," Gardenhire said. "He threw the ball over the plate. He worked quick, and he was healthy. So we'll just keep moving forward from there and get his pitch count up."
• Entering Saturday, the Mariners were just one of five teams in the American League with a positive run differential, having outscored opponents 169 to 165.
• Cano has started all 42 of Seattle's games (40 at second base, two at designated hitter). Since 2007, he is second only to Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder in games played.
• The Mariners have been shut out six times this season, most in the American League.
• Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen owns a streak of 12 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, the longest by an American League reliever entering Saturday. Wilhelmsen has not allowed a run in his past 10 appearances, allowing six hits and four walks with 14 strikeouts while dropping his ERA to 2.14 from 4.82.
Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.