CHICAGO -- It certainly wasn't a command performance for Felix Hernandez on Sunday, but the King kept control well enough to put his team in position to win until the Cubs rallied to hand the Mariners a 7-6, 12-inning loss at Wrigley Field.
In his third start since coming off a two-month stint on the disabled list with a strained calf, the Mariners ace allowed just two hits, but gave up a pair of runs and managed to go only five innings in large part because of five walks and a hit batter.
Then he could only sit and watch in frustration as the Cubs scored the final seven runs of the game, including three off closer Steve Cishek in the ninth and then the game-winner on a bunt by pinch-hitting pitcher Jon Lester in the 12th off Cody Martin.
"This was a tough loss for us," Hernandez said. "The offense came through in the first three innings. But it's a tough loss."
Hernandez has struggled to find his rhythm since rejoining the rotation, but pitched better in this one and remains 5-4 with a 3.46 ERA after winding up with a no-decision.
"There's a lot of progress in there and I'm just trying to get better every day, every time I go out there," said the 30-year-old. "I'm just trying to do my job to help my team win."
Hernandez walked the first two batters he faced, but recovered to strike out the next three to get out of the first, then breezed through four innings before the control bug bit him in the fifth.
"Obviously he was amped up early and had a couple walks," manager Scott Servais said. "Then he found his breaking ball and I thought he had a really good slider tonight. The pitch count got up and that's what they'll do. They grind at-bats and then he threw 30 or 31 pitches in the fifth. It was definitely time to get him out of there."
But overall it was a solid improvement from his previous two outings, when he gave up four runs in the first two innings of each game. His offense got him off the hook in those contests as he earned a no-decision and a win with late comebacks.
This time the offense jumped on board early, with a trio of two-run homers by Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Dae-Ho Lee staking Hernandez to a 6-0 lead before he even surrendered his first hit on a leadoff single by Ben Zobrist in the fourth.
But Hernandez got sideways in the fifth as he gave up a single, three walks and the hit batter to allow two runs to score before striking out Jason Heyward to end the bases-loaded rally.
"There were definitely some good signs and he got in a really good rhythm there for a couple innings," Servais said. "He's got to get stamina. When you throw 31 pitches in an inning and you haven't been out there for a while, that's going to catch up to you. And that's what happened. That's where the walks and lack of command comes in."
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.