ANAHEIM -- Felix Hernandez has been the Mariners' most successful starting pitcher during the most trying time of the season, winning as many games by himself as the rest of the rotation has won combined. While the remainder of the five-man rotation has limped along with a 3-13 record since Aug. 24, when the Mariners were 20 games over .500 and trailed the American League West-leading Angels by one game, Hernandez has won three of his last four starts and has a club-best 13-7 record. And the best is still to come for the 21-year-old right-hander.
"Felix is still a work in progress," manager John McLaren said on Saturday, "but he has pitched some big games for us. He has stopped losing streaks three or four times. The win he had at Yankee Stadium [on Sept. 3] was real good for his development. He is going to be sensational, among the elite someday." Against the Yankees, Hernandez ended the Mariners' season-high nine-game losing streak. He also snapped the seven-game skid on July 27 against the Athletics (he beat them four times this season) and ended a four-game Seattle skid on Sept. 9. Five of his wins so far this season came after Mariners losses. If Hernandez can end the regular season the way he started it -- pitching 17 consecutive scoreless innings against the Athletics and Red Sox -- he likely would wind up with a 15-7 record and an ERA below 4.00. He ventures into Tuesday night's start against the Indians at Safeco Field with seven wins in his last eight decisions and would be in line to start the regular-season finale next Sunday afternoon against the Rangers. He has re-emerged as the staff ace, and should only get better going forward. That could happen as soon he understands the importance of throwing inside more and puts hitters away sooner. He has surrendered 15 hits on 0-and-2 pitches this season, far too many with his kind of stuff, according to McLaren. "Hitters should be eating out of his hand with the stuff he has," the Seattle skipper said. Instead, the hitters have taken good swings on just about any count. Getting pushed away from the plate now and then would make hitting against Hernandez far less comfortable. "Felix needs to pitch more aggressively," McLaren said. It is worth noting that Hernandez has hit two batters with pitches this season and has only 10 HBPs in his career, while throwing 21 wild pitches. Compare that to Nolan Ryan, who hit 158 batters and threw 277 wild pitches during his 27-year MLB career, and Rogers Clemens, who has nailed 159 batters with pitches and uncorked 143 wild pitches -- some no doubt delivered with a high-and-inside "back off" message attached. The Mariners would like for Hernandez to pursue the inside part of the plate more often. "We have talked to him about it, and it's an experience thing," McLaren said. "He'll have to do it on his own." Trivia challenge: The combined shutout left-hander Jarrod Washburn and right-hander Brandon Morrow threw in Friday night's 6-0 victory was the 11th time the Mariners have blanked the Angels in Anaheim. When was the last time that happened? A select group: Ichiro Suzuki went into Saturday's game against the Angels with a .350 batting average, putting him in position to be one of four active players to finish two seasons with at least a .350 average. Todd Helton of the Rockies did in 2000 and '04, Giants slugger Barry Bonds 2002 and '04 and Nomar Garciaparra accomplished the feat in 1999 and 2000 when he played for the Red Sox. Ichiro is the fourth, batting .350 in 2001 and .372 in '04, winning batting titles each season. A respite: Adrian Beltre was in the starting lineup for Saturday's nationally televised game, but not at his customary third base position. A slightly sore right shoulder -- the result of numerous diving stops that have taken their toll -- prompted McLaren to put Beltre in the designated hitter spot for the first time this season and start Willie Bloomquist at third. "I asked him if he needed a day off and he said that he would prefer being the DH," McLaren said. "He has been beat up pretty good, but playing through it. You can see the treatment he goes through every day. He has heat packs and ice packs all over his body." No appeal: Right-hander Jorge Campillo has decided not to appeal his four-game suspension and began serving his punishment Friday night. He would be able to return to action during Wednesday's doubleheader against the Indians at Safeco Field. The answer is: Freddy Garcia pitched a shutout against the Angels on July 1, 2001 -- surrendering eight hits and two walks. On deck: The four-game series concludes Sunday afternoon with right-hander and former Angels starter Jeff Weaver (7-12, 6.21 ERA) opposing Angels right-hander and Cy Young Award candidate John Lackey (17-9, 3.13 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 12:35 p.m. PT.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.