KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Even with Felix Hernandez pitching for quick outs instead of trying to overpower hitters, the Kansas City Royals couldn’t solve the Seattle Mariners’ ace.
Hernandez won his fourth straight decision, Jesus Montero homered and drove in four runs as the Mariners beat the Royals 6-1 Thursday.
“He pitched outstanding,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He didn’t throw the heat as much. He wasn’t trying to overpower us. He had good two-seam action and commanded the ball as well as any pitcher we’ve seen this year.”
With the temperature above 100 for most of the game, Hernandez eschewed his normal routine of striking out 10 or more. Coming in with a major league-leading 143 strikeouts, he finished with three — tying a season low.
“He had a good breaking ball and kept the ball down, pitched to contact,” Yost said. “He did a good job of getting quick outs. He was throwing strikes and commanding the ball down, using both sides of the plate. You can have a low pitch count if you do that.”
Hernandez (8-5) is 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA in his past seven starts since a loss to San Diego on June 12. He allowed one run and eight hits, throwing only 89 pitches in eight innings.
“He was locating multiple pitches and has above-average stuff,” said Chris Getz, who drove in the lone Royals run. “You can never get too comfortable against him. How can you? He’s the kind of guy where you can’t be behind in the count.”
Hernandez said he was not thinking about the heat.
“I know it was hot.” Hernandez said. “I just tried to throw strikes and get quick outs. … I was not trying to pitch to contact, but just throw strikes.”
Hernandez labored only in a 24-pitch eighth inning when the Royals loaded the bases with one out. Hernandez got out of that jam by striking out Alcides Escobar and retiring Billy Butler on a grounder.
“He really only had to work that last inning,” Mariners manage Eric Wedge said. “That was big too. That game gets real close, real quick if one of those guys comes through. He really stepped up right there those last two hitters.”
The Mariners jumped on Royals rookie left-hander Will Smith (1-3) for three runs in the second with Montero leading off the inning with his ninth home run.
“It was a bad pitch, 1-2,” Smith said. “That’s supposed to be a pitcher’s count.”
Michael Saunders had an RBI single and Brendan Ryan added a sacrifice fly in the inning.
Hernandez and a three-run lead proved to be insurmountable.
“It was more that he was working you away and then busting you inside,” said Jarrod Dyson, who singled in the eighth off Hernandez. “He had every pitch working in the zone.”
Smith, just recalled from Triple-A Omaha, gave up four runs on eight hits in 6 1-3 innings, while walking two and striking out five.
“He looked OK,” Yost said. “He had a bit of a bumpy second inning and he made a mistake to Montero, hung a curve. He looked better than his first time out.”
Smith settled down and pitched into the seventh inning.
“That was a big confidence booster to come back,” Smith said. “I gave up the three-run inning, then put up a zero.”
The Mariners increased the lead to 4-0 in the fifth when Ichiro Suzuki doubled and scored on Montero’s single.
Montero had an RBI double off the left-field railing in the seventh inning and added a sacrifice fly in the ninth to match his career high with four RBIs.
Hernandez’s streak of 19 2-3 scoreless innings ended in the fifth, which Eric Hosmer began with a double and scored on Getz’s single.
The Mariners won three of four against the Royals, who have lost 13 of 17 games.
NOTES: The Royals optioned RHP Vin Mazzaro to Triple-A Omaha. … C Jason Kendall, who has not played in nearly 23 months after having two shoulder surgeries, signed a minor league contract with the Royals and was assigned to their Double-A Northwest Arkansas affiliate. … RHP Luke Hochevar will start Friday for the Royals in the series opener against Minnesota. The Twins will counter with RHP Nick Blackburn.
— Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.