SEATTLE -- Right-hander Felix Hernandez tied a franchise record on Tuesday night, but it was not a record-tying accomplishment he could feel good about. He hit a batter in the first inning. Hit another batter in the fourth. And he plunked his third batter in the fifth. "It was a horrible night," he said. "Nothing was working."
What a difference six days meant for the Mariners' ace. Hernandez held the Rangers to one run over 7 1/3 innings in his start against them six days ago in Arlington, but surrendered two runs in the first and second innings of the rematch to fall into an early hole. The Mariners never recovered, dropping a 7-3 decision in front of 22,704 at Safeco Field. The three hit batters were a first for Felix during his 101-start career and the seventh in franchise history. Randy Johnson did it twice, first in 1992 against the Angels, and again six years later against the Red Sox. The list also includes Bill Swift (1998), Steve Trout (1988), Jeff Weaver (2007) and Matt Young (1985). "It wasn't Felix's night," Mariners manager Jim Riggleman said. "He didn't give himself a chance, but he competed. Typical Felix, he didn't want to come out of the game. He kept trying to get it together and couldn't find it." The 22-year-old was uncharacteristically wild from the get-go, hitting a batter and walking another in the first inning. But he nearly escaped the frame unscathed. After striking out pinch-hitter Brandon Boggs -- who replaced the injured Milton Bradley one pitch into the at-bat -- Marlon Byrd hit a long fly ball to left field. Raul Ibanez drifted back, but rather than sprint to the wall and wait for the ball to come down, he and the ball arrived at the fence about the same time. Ibanez jumped, but the ball missed his glove and Byrd ended up with a two-run double. "To tell you the truth, I thought the ball was gone," Riggleman said. "I thought [Byrd] got all of it." Byrd went 2-for-2 against Hernandez after going hitless in his first six career at-bats against Felix. "His demeanor wasn't the same as it has been," Byrd said. "Maybe he has a sore arm, or he's tired, or it was just one of those days. He's still a great pitcher and he has great stuff. He'll put it together." Hernandez believes it was just one of those days, and he will do his best to discard the memories of his shortest outing of the season. "You just have to forget about it and get ready for the next one," he said, referring to Sunday's start in Anaheim against the likely American League West champion Angels. After the Rangers scored two runs in the top of the first, the Mariners retaliated with a run in the bottom of the inning. Ichiro Suzuki reached second on an infield single and ensuing throwing error, advanced to third on a long flyout and scored on a forceout at second base. But the Rangers struck back themselves, scoring two more runs. The second inning included a one-out single off third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo, a hit that scored a run. Regular third baseman Adrian Beltre, a Gold Glove fielder, might have made the play, but he was unavailable for the series opener following an MRI exam on his left thumb. "The only third baseman in baseball that catches that ball is Beltre," Riggleman said. "I don't think any other third baseman is going to make that play, and it was correctly called a hit." But that's the way it went this night for Hernandez, who lasted just 4 1/3 innings, his shortest non-injury departure of the season by one-third of an inning. Hernandez was involved in a similar play at home plate Tuesday night as the one at Shea Stadium in June that caused him to go on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained ankle. After hitting Byrd with a pitch and yielding a single to Hank Blalock, Hernandez threw a wild pitch that bounced so far away from catcher Rob Johnson that Byrd attempted to score from second base. Felix broke for the plate late and made the tag on Byrd but was upended by the slide. "I was concerned because sometimes a guy who gets hit by a pitch will take an opportunity to really smoke the pitcher covering the plate," Riggleman said. "To Byrd's credit, he didn't take a cheap shot there. He could have hurt us there. Felix had a chance to get blindsided and Byrd made a good, clean, safe play and nobody got hurt." Byrd was the second Rangers batter to get hit by a Hernandez pitch. He hit Joaquin Arias in the first inning and Michael Young in the fourth. Right-handed reliever Mark Lowe brushed the front of Josh Hamilton's jersey in the eighth for another HBP. The Rangers countered by hitting Ichiro in the bottom of the eighth inning, but none of the hit batters led to bench-cleaning incidents. Perhaps the Rangers sensed that Hernandez was not trying to hit anyone. "He just didn't have his usual command," Riggleman said. "In the past, when he hasn't had his command, he wasn't off as much as he was tonight." Not even close.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.