It was a statistic that defied logic. Felix Hernandez has been one of baseball’s best pitchers for a decade, a dominant right-hander with a 125-92 career record and 3.07 earned-run average, but going into 2014, the Seattle Mariners’ ace had a pedestrian 8-13 mark and 3.92 ERA against the Angels.
Consider those tables turned.
Mike Trout crushed a solo home run to center field in his first at-bat of 2015, the second straight season the center fielder homered off Hernandez in his first at-bat of the year, but that was pretty much the extent of the Angels’ highlights on a cloudy, 54-degree afternoon at Safeco Field.
Hernandez, the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner, shut down the Angels for the rest of his seven-inning outing, giving up the one run on two hits, striking out 10 and walking one in the Mariners’ 4-1 season-opening victory.
Hernandez improved to 6-0 with a 1.49 ERA in eight career opening-day starts. In six starts against the Angels since the beginning of 2014, he is 4-0 with an 0.88 ERA, striking out 57 and walking 10 in 41 innings.
“I don’t know how many pitches he throws — it seems like 12,” Angels catcher Chris Iannetta said. “It’s probably four or five, but he locates all of them and throws any of them in any count. And he just gets tougher as the game goes on. The more guys get on base, the tougher he gets.”
For the record, Hernandez throws four pitches: 92-mph fastball, changeup, slider and curve. But his breaking ball is nasty, and he throws his off-speed pitches in sequences that make his fastball seem more firm.
“You can tell by some of the swings some of the best players in the game take against him that he’s very good,” Iannetta said. “I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s a competitor.”
Trout has hit Hernandez well, entering Monday with a .367 average (18 for 49), two home runs and 11 runs batted in against him. After fouling off several two-strike pitches in the first inning, Trout, the 2014 AL most valuable player, hammered a fastball for his homer.
But Hernandez struck out Trout in the fourth and sixth innings. After giving up a leadoff single to Erick Aybar and hitting C.J. Cron with a pitch to open the fifth, Hernandez struck out Iannetta on a sweeping slider and got Johnny Giavotella to ground into a double play to preserve a 2-1 lead.
“The majority of the time he goes out there, he has his best stuff — that’s why he’s such a good pitcher,” Trout said. “He’s tough because he throws all of his pitches for strikes and mixes them up well. You can’t sit on one pitch.”
That’s the same blueprint Angels ace Jered Weaver has used to become one of the best pitchers in franchise history, but there were smudge marks all over his seventh career opening-day start.
Weaver retired eight in a row before hanging a breaking ball to Austin Jackson, who ripped a two-out double to left in the third. Seth Smith hit a run-scoring triple to right, just beyond the reach of a diving Kole Calhoun, and Robinson Cano laced an RBI single to center for a 2-1 Mariners lead.
Weaver left a fifth-inning fastball hanging for Dustin Ackley, who hit a towering solo homer to right. Brad Miller singled, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Smith’s ground-rule double to left-center to make it 4-1.
The four runs Weaver allowed in six innings were as many as he gave up in 26 2/3 innings of his previous four opening-day starts combined.
“I’ve got to do a better job,” Weaver said. “A lot of pitches were up. I fell behind in counts. I had to pretty much battle the whole game. With the stuff I was throwing up there, I definitely wasn’t going to throw a shutout. You do that against a lineup like that, you’re going to get in trouble.”