May 18 2014 ISN – MINNEAPOLIS — For everyone except Corey Hart, Sunday was “just what the doctor ordered” for the Mariners.
Needing a shutdown performance from their ace, the Mariners got eight innings of two-run ball from Felix Hernandez as they topped the Twins, 6-2, to snap a four-game losing streak.
A struggling offense came to life behind a four-hit day from Robinson Cano and some more clutch hitting from Michael Saunders. Rookie James Jones continued making things happen in the leadoff role, and manager Lloyd McClendon was able to breathe easier as he brought closer Fernando Rodney in for a nice non-save situation to finish things up.
Hart had different orders from the doctor, however, after straining his left hamstring while stealing second in the fourth inning. While the rest of the team headed to Texas for a two-game stop after Monday’s off-day, Hart flew home to Seattle for an MRI from team physicians that will determine his immediate future.
That was the only damper for the Mariners on a sunny day at Target Field that helped put the four-game skid in the rearview mirror.
“Felix gave us everything we wanted,” McClendon said. “It was an ideal situation for us today — the starter went eight and we got the closer some much-needed work. It was perfect.
“We had much better at-bats with runners in scoring position. We actually hit the ball pretty hard a couple other times with runners in scoring position and didn’t get anything to show for it. Our guys had better plans, a better idea of what they were doing up there, and that’s all we ask. Today was a good day for us.”
Hernandez improved to 5-1 with a 2.94 ERA as he gave up seven hits with one walk and five strikeouts to record his second straight win.
“It was good energy for us, the whole day,” said Hernandez, who acknowledged that putting an end to the losing streak was foremost on his mind. “We came here ready to play and ready to win.”
Hernandez got welcome help from an offense that finally delivered some clutch hits after going 1-for-26 with runners in scoring position over the prior four games. After totaling just eight runs in its four straight losses, Seattle crossed the plate six times and had 11 hits, including a 4-for-5 day from Cano.
“I keep telling people, Robbie is a great hitter,” McClendon said. “He’s going to hit. He’s going to hit his home runs. Just be patient. This guy is amazing.”
Cano had a season high with his four hits and drove in the go-ahead run with a double high off the wall in center in the fifth inning, giving him 10 doubles and 24 RBIs on the year. Cano also singled and scored in the fourth and ninth innings. He’s reached base in 26 straight games — tying his career high and extending the longest current streak in the Majors — and is hitting .318.
Cano still has just one home run on the season, but he came within several feet of clearing the wall in dead center on Sunday and had two doubles off the top of the fence in games earlier in the week as well.
“You know what, as long as I’m doing my job with men in scoring position, that’s all that matters to me,” Cano said. “And getting on base for the guys. That was a double. If it doesn’t leave the park, there’s nothing I can do and I’m not going to get frustrated about that. Because one day, they’re going to go out.”
Saunders went 2-for-4 with a triple, double and two RBIs to conclude a strong series after returning from a hyperextended knee. Saunders was 6-for-11 with a home run, triple, double, four RBIs and three runs scored in the three games at Target Field as he raised his average from .226 to .263.
“I was seeing the ball well, feeling like I was getting some pitches to hit and getting in some good counts,” Saunders said. “And when I am getting those pitches, I feel like I’m putting a good swing on it.”
Jones continued to provide a spark in the leadoff role as he reached on an infield single in the fifth, stole second and scored on Saunders’ triple. Jones has hit safely in his first 10 Major League starts, tying Edgar Martinez’s club record to open a career.
First baseman Justin Smoak made it 5-2 with an RBI double in the seventh. It was Smoak’s 11th double on the season as he increased his team RBI lead to 27. He had 19 doubles last year in 131 games.
An overturned call on replay review and a wild pitch in the third inning helped the Twins push across their only two runs off Hernandez, with Trevor Plouffe delivering the two-out, two-run single to right.
“It was a good day,” Hernandez said. “I was down in the zone, throwing a lot of strikes. My one mistake I left that slider a little up against Plouffe and he got the hit with two RBIs. It was off the plate, but he put a pretty good swing on it.”
“Felix is a guy you don’t want to settle in and get into his rhythm,” said Plouffe, who is now 4-for-8 against Hernandez in his career. “But by the end there, he settled in.”
The win improved the Mariners to 21-22 as they head to Texas to conclude this five-game trip. Seattle has gone 14-9 since April 23 and is in third place in the American League West, 6 1/2 games back of front-running Oakland.