Hernandez confounds Twins to halt personal four-game slide

SEATTLE -- Felix Hernandez saw both extremes at either end of his start Thursday night: the fear of a blistering liner coming so close he could feel the breeze of the blast whistle past his nose, and the rarity of the four strikeout inning.

In between, Hernandez was the dominant young star Seattle has come to expect.

Hernandez snapped a personal four-game losing streak, allowing one run over eight innings, and Jose Lopez hit a three-run homer to help the Mariners beat AL Central-leading Minnesota 4-1.

Hernandez last won on April 21, and Seattle lost each of his next seven starts.

"I just wanted to do my job. I feel like it's been a year since I win a game," Hernandez said. "Today was big and I hope I can do that every time."

Still, there was a moment of trepidation for every Mariner in the first inning when Hernandez barely avoided getting drilled in the head by Justin Morneau's RBI liner with two outs. It wasn't a wakeup call, but Hernandez became nearly untouchable from there.

After Morneau's hit, Hernandez (3-4) retired 22 of the final 27 batters he faced, and Seattle took three of four from the Twins, holding Minnesota's offense to one run in the final three games. Hernandez also notched himself a little bit of baseball history when he struck out our Twins in the eighth inning after Joe Mauer reached when a third strike in the dirt bounced away from catcher Rob Johnson.

No problem for Hernandez, who got Morneau looking to end the inning and finish off his night with nine strikeouts.

It was the third time in Mariners' history a pitcher struck out four in an inning.

"That's pretty good, huh?" Hernandez said. "It's been a while since I've won a game. I was pretty excited for that."

During his losing skid, Hernandez had outing where he wasn't the young star Seattle expect, and other times when the Mariners offense simply failed to help him out. In his last start against the Angels, Hernandez threw eight innings giving up one run, and left in a 1-1 game, only to see Seattle lose 5-1.

On Thursday night, Hernandez came through with another strong effort and this time got a bit of offensive help.

In his 150th career start, Hernandez struck out nine and walked one and was still hitting the mid-90s on the radar gun in the eighth inning.

Aside from Mauer's two-out double in the first that center field Franklin Gutierrez appeared to misjudge and couldn't get to despite a diving attempt, all hits Hernandez allowed were singles.

Hernandez's last victory was a complete-game win over Baltimore in late April. David Aardsma pitched the ninth for his 12th save in 15 chances.

"To keep that team to one run over three straight games is pretty impressive," Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu said. "Felix was just outstanding."

Lopez came up with the big blow as part of Seattle's four-run third inning, but the Mariners took advantage of Twins starter Carl Pavano from the start. Seattle stole five bases in the first three innings, three of those by Ichiro Suzuki.

"I made my catcher look bad when I'm the one that should be making the adjustments," Pavano said. "It's kind of embarrassing."

Michael Saunders led off the third with a ground-rule double, then stole third and scored on Suzuki's single. After Suzuki flustered Pavano with two more stolen bases and Gutierrez walked, Lopez jumped on Pavano's first pitch. It was Lopez's second homer in three games.

Pavano (5-6) settled down after the third, but still lost for the third time in four starts. Pavano threw seven innings, giving up eight hits, walking two and striking out five.

"Carl had one bad pitch, one bad inning really," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That kind of ate him up."

Twins prospect Danny Valencia made his major league debut and reached on an infield single in his first at-bat. Valencia was called up after Wednesday night's game while Michael Cuddyer is on the bereavement list.

Game notes
Seattle 1B Casey Kotchman set a major league record for consecutive chances (2,008) without an error by a first baseman. He bested the record of Kevin Youkilis (2,002) in the second inning. ... The roof at Safeco Field was suddenly closed in the bottom of the seventh as light rain started to fall. ... Gardenhire doesn't expect Valencia's time in the majors, for now, to last beyond Cuddyer's return to the club next week.