"We wanted to be aggressive early," Indians manager Manny Acta said of his team's plan against Hernandez. "You just can't let him get in a rhythm. Once he gets in a rhythm, you're pretty much done."
The American League Central-leading Indians know all too well about how dominant Hernandez can be on the mound. Heading into Wednesday's meeting, the 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner has fashioned a 2.49 ERA over 72 1/3 career innings against Cleveland. On April 19 earlier this year, the Tribe was blanked by Hernandez over eight innings in Seattle.
Rare is the night that Hernandez is off his game.
Such an evening presented itself for the Indians on Wednesday.
"When you get opportunities off a guy like that," Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner said, "you never know how many opportunities you're going to have, so you want to be able to take advantage of them and at least push a couple across."
Cleveland pushed four across in each of the first and fourth innings, sending Hernandez to the showers after he fired off 103 pitches in just 3 2/3 innings. Hernandez had logged at least 6 1/3 innings in each of his previous outings this season and entered the night sporting a 2.29 ERA. He had not allowed eight runs in a start since May 7, 2010.
The Tribe's onslaught against Hernandez began in a chaotic first inning, when Choo and Jason Kipnis opened with consecutive singles. After Hernandez hit Asdrubal Cabrera with a pitch to load the bases, Mariners catcher Jesus Montero was unable to corral one of the right-hander's offerings, leading to a passed ball that allowed Choo to score.
Hafner followed with a run-scoring groundout to put the Mariners behind, 2-1. Carlos Santana then drew a walk and later stole second base with two outs and Cabrera on third base. On the play, Montero pump faked to second before throwing to third base, hoping to catch Cabrera off guard.
Instead, the baseball sailed wildly into left field, opening the door for Cabrera to score on the play. Seattle left fielder Chone Figgins retrieved the ball and attempted to cut down Cabrera at the plate, but he also misfired on his throw. Santana, running through the entire play, slid headfirst into home ahead of a tag, giving the Tribe a 4-1 lead.
"It's a play we took a shot on: delayed steal, two outs, two strikes," Acta said. "It worked for us, but Carlos, he deserves a lot of credit because he never slowed down. That was a pretty big run. Errors or no errors, when you're able to put up a four-spot against Felix Hernandez in the first inning, you feel like you have a chance."
Cleveland added four runs off Hernandez in the fourth inning, when Kipnis, Hafner, Santana and Michael Brantley each delivered run-scoring hits. When the smoke cleared, Hernandez had given up a season-high eight runs, though two were unearned.
"They came out with a good approach, swinging early," Hernandez said, "but not swinging at my breaking ball. Everything was flat today. My location was not that good, and they got me pretty good."
After Hernandez's exit, Hafner added a towering solo home run off Mariners reliever Hisashi Iwakuma in the sixth inning to push Cleveland ahead, 9-3. The homer, the fifth of the year for the veteran designated hitter, moved Hafner (193) out of a tie with Al Rosen and into solo possession of eighth all-time on the franchise's home run chart.
The wealth of offense was more than sufficient in helping Jimenez to the win column. The right-hander bounced back from a rough outing in his last start, in which he gave up seven runs over 4 1/3 innings against the Red Sox on Friday. This time around, Jimenez pounded the strike zone, allowing three runs on five hits with four strikeouts and two walks.
Seattle scored one run in the first inning and Dustin Ackley added a two-run home run in the third.
"I thought that was the best Ubaldo has thrown the ball so far," Acta said. "He was in command the whole time."
Jimenez did not argue with that assessment.
"I think it's true, because I was able to throw a lot of strikes," said Jimenez, who threw 69 of his 107 pitches for strikes. "Since the first inning, I was able to just attack the strike zone and just make my pitches."
The Indians were thankful Hernandez missed on a few of his.
"He's so good. All his pitches are so good," Acta said. "We were aggressive early against him. I'm not saying that's going to work all the time, but we had some good at-bats and we fought him."