SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle ace Felix Hernandez couldn’t pick a better time to be regaining his form.
Hernandez pitched eight strong innings and Mike Zunino homered and drove in three runs to lift the Mariners to an 8-2 victory over Milwaukee on Saturday night, handing the Brewers their sixth straight loss.
“I’m getting better every time out,” said Hernandez, who missed almost two months with a strained right calf. “The first two innings, not that loose, and then after that everything clicked. Good fastball, good changeup, good curveball.”
Hernandez (8-4) gave up two runs and seven hits, striking out eight and walking one to improve to 4-0 with a 3.80 ERA in seven starts since coming off the disabled list on July 20. Steve Cishek, who had lost his closer’s role, pitched a perfect ninth.
“He’s rounding into Felix form, no doubt,”Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s having fun. He’s healthy. He feels good about where he’s at. He’s got some bullets left in his arm, having been out as long as he has. He’s still fresh.”
Seattle, which has won eight straight homes games and 12 of its last 15 overall, pulled one game behind Baltimore for the American League’s second wild card.
Zunino and Leonys Martin hit back to back homers off Wily Peralta (5-9) to open the bottom of the seventh, stretching Seattle’s lead to 4-0. Peralta was making his third start since being recalled from Triple-A Colorado Springs.
“When you face a guy like King Felix, your team’s not going to give up,” said Peralta, demoted in June after being the Brewers’ opening day starter. “Not many runs, overall, until the last two home runs in the seventh, so I think I was throwing OK.”
The Brewers broke through against Hernandez in the eighth on an RBI double by Ryan Braun and a run-scoring single by Hernan Perez.
The Mariners then added four runs in the bottom of the inning, capped by Zunino’s two-run double to right-center.
“I just knew I had to be patient throughout the night and I’d get a couple pitches I could hit,” said Zunino, who was not called up from Triple-A until late July. “It’s just nice to be in a couple of those situations late in the game with runners on.”
Martin manufactured a run in the third to put Seattle up 1-0. He walked, stole second, moved to third on Ketel Marte’s ground out and came home on Norichika Aoki’s single to left.
Aoki drove in the Mariners second run in the fifth, slapping an opposite-field double to left to score Marte from first.
The Mariners doubled their lead in the seventh when Zunino opened with his eighth homer and Martin followed with his 14th.
“I think they were bad pitches,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “Tired? I thought the first two hitters, I thought he’d be good for sure for the first two hitters. I wanted Blaine (Boyer) ready for Marte, but unfortunately the first two hitters homered.”
Hernandez pitched out of trouble several times earlier, stranding a runner at third in the first, and runners at second in the second and sixth.
“His last two starts, he’s just getting stronger and stronger,” catcher Zunino said. “He’s finding his rhythm, his command’s great, he’s doing a great job throwing the ball inside to both lefties and righties and that’s opening everything up. And, his change-up’s getting very close to what it was.”
The veteran outfielder, who was sent to Triple-A Tacoma for 16 games in July, has hit safely in 11 of his last 15 games, including three three-hit games. He is hitting .358 over that stretch with five doubles, three RBIs and hit by pitches twice. “I think I made pretty good pitches to him. But he just still found the barrel, put it in play,” Peralta said. “The first hit he got was on a very good pitch. The second one I missed a little bit. The third one was a fastball up, for some reason he just put the barrel on it. He’s pretty hot right now.”
Brewers: RHP Junior Guerra, on the 15-day DL (right elbow inflammation) reported no problems after a bullpen session on Friday and now will pitch in a simulated game. “The next step for him will be Monday, he’ll face hitters … basically pitch two innings,” manager Craig Counsell said. Guerra, a 31-year-old rookie, has been a surprise with a 7-3 record and 2.93 ERA in 17 starts.
Mariners: LHP James Paxton, on the 15-day DL with a bruised left elbow after being hit by a line drive, made a short rehab start Saturday at Triple-A Tacoma. In a 53-pitch outing, Paxton allowed two hits with one walk and three strikeouts in three scoreless innings. He could return to the rotation next Thursday.
Brewers: RHP Matt Garza (4-5, 4.87 ERA), makes his first start against the Mariners since 2010, when he was with Tampa Bay. Garza opened the season on the DL and is making his 13th start since being activated in mid-June. He is 3-1 in his last four starts.
Mariners: Rookie LHP Ariel Miranda (1-0, 5.79) makes his third start for Seattle since being acquired from Baltimore for Wade Miley. He allowed three runs on three hits on five innings in his last start, a no-decision.
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