Rare hiccup for Felix vs. Twins

Rare hiccup for Felix vs. Twins

SEATTLE -- Felix Hernandez has pitched his way out of trouble with amazing consistency this season, but the Mariners ace couldn't find the answers in an ill-fated third inning on Friday night as the Twins topped Seattle, 7-2.

Opposing hitters were 4-for-52 with runners in scoring position against Hernandez in his first 59 innings of the season until the Twins went 4-for-7 in the third frame to push across five runs en route to their first win against him since 2011.

"It's frustrating," Hernandez said. "We've been on a pretty good roll, but sometimes it's going to happen. We just have to go out there tomorrow and play a good game."

The third-inning struggles were a surprising setback for Hernandez, who hadn't given up more than four earned runs in any of his first nine starts of the season. He settled back in and allowed just an infield single over three final frames, but the damage was done as he fell to 4-4 with a 2.86 ERA.

"Obviously he's a great pitcher and has had a great career and has pitched a lot of great ball games here, just tonight was not one of them," said manager Scott Servais. "They just got going on him there in the third inning and he couldn't get them off his stuff. It happens. He's going to start 34 or 35 games for us and I hope that's the only one like that, but it's going to happen once in a while."

A second-inning home run by Miguel Sano -- a bolt to left field projected at 414 feet by Statcast™ -- was a rarity in itself for the Twins. Hernandez had allowed just three homers in 17 previous starts against Minnesota and Sano's was the Twins' first long ball in 71 1/3 innings over 11 games against the King at Safeco Field.

"I was trying to go backdoor sinker away, but it came back over the middle of the plate," Hernandez said.

But the real damage came in the third when he surrendered hits to the first four batters - including an RBI double by Brian Dozier and a run-scoring single by Joe Mauer -- and then walked Sano to load the bases. After a fly out to center, Robbie Grossman lined a two-run double over the head of first baseman Dae-Ho Lee and Byung Ho Park pushed across the final run on a fielder's choice on a ball that deflected off his foot, but was ruled fair by the umpires on a play that can't be challenged.

It was Hernandez's first loss to Minnesota since May 17, 2011, when he dropped a 2-1 decision in Seattle. He'd gone 4-0 with a 0.63 ERA in five starts since, with 39 strikeouts, four walks and just one extra-base hit.

But this one didn't go nearly as well as the 30-year-old wound up allowing eight hits and six runs with one walk, a hit batter and six strikeouts.

"He just left a lot of balls in the middle of the plate," Servais said of the one bad frame. "I thought his stuff was fine. I think you could see their approach was to look soft late in the count. He got a number of strikeouts looking, taking fastballs, but in that inning they got the ball rolling and he left some balls up."

Hernandez said a simple mechanical fix, calming himself down and stopping his body from flying open on his delivery, fixed the problem. But down 6-1 after the third, all he could do at that point was eat up innings.

"I was trying to make good pitches," he said. "I don't want to kill the bullpen. I didn't want him taking me out there. I just wanted to go out there and be there as long as I could and that's what I did the last three innings."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.