The Angels were rolling, winning five straight and nine of 10 games, and their once-anemic offense was on fire, producing 46 runs and 67 hits, including 10 home runs, in the first five games of this trip.
Then Felix Hernandez happened.
The Angels ran into their long-time nemesis in Safeco Field on Thursday, and the Seattle ace threw a wet blanket over their bats, blanking the Angels while giving up five hits and striking out six in seven innings of a 7-2 Mariners win.
As hot as the Angels have been, this was no surprise. The Angels had gotten the better of Hernandez for seven years, the right-hander going 7-12 with a 4.12 earned-run average in 32 starts against them from June 11, 2006 to June 20, 2013.
But in 12 starts since, Hernandez is 7-1 with an 0.91 ERA, striking out 103 in 79 innings. And the Angels’ only runs in 32 2/3 innings of four starts against him this season are two Mike Trout solo homers.
“We did all right against him for a while,” Manager Mike Scioscia said, “but he’s had our number lately.”
Hernandez, a six-time All-Star who is 11-5 with a 2.84 ERA this season, has thrown equivalent of 11/3 seasons against Angels, his 297 2/3 innings against them the most by a pitcher against one team in baseball over the last 10 seasons.
But familiarity hasn’t helped the Angels, because Hernandez has constantly evolved, going from a four-seam flame-thrower/slider specialist to a craftsman who cuts and runs his fastball and mixes it with a nasty slider and changeup.
“It’s like you’re playing Wiffle Ball against a guy whose ball does this and that,” Scioscia said. “He has incredible game feel. He can pitch to the strikeout, the double play, a lot of things.”
The Angels will play the Seattle series without closer Huston Street, who suffered a right groin injury in Wednesday night’s win over Colorado. After retiring Ben Paulsen on a game-ending groundout, Street buckled and fell to one knee, not wanting to put any weight on his leg.
While the injury does not appear serious enough to send Street to the disabled list, the Angels will play it safe, combining four days off in Seattle with next week’s All-Star break to give Street eight days off.
“It definitely does not feel very severe today, which is a great sign,” Street said. “We have to go through all the tests, and I have to put some stress on it. But having gone through this before, there are a lot of things to be optimistic about.”
The Angels will go with a six-man bullpen through Friday night, but starter Matt Shoemaker, who pitched Wednesday, will be available in relief Saturday and Sunday.
Setup man Joe Smith will slide into the closer role, and Scioscia said rookie right-hander Trevor Gott, right-hander Fernando Salas and left-hander Cesar Ramos could pitch in the eighth.
“We’ll have to match up a little bit more than we have,” Scioscia said, “but that’s not always a bad thing.”
Street, meanwhile, will put his pursuit of 300 saves on hold. Wednesday’s save was his 24th this season and 299th of his career, leaving him one shy of becoming the 27th player in major league history to reach 300 saves.
“You’re frustrated, you’re furious any time you feel like you’re letting your teammates down when you can’t be out there,” Street said. “But you turn the page and try to get back as quickly as you can.”