Thames' solo shot enough for dominant Felix

Thames' solo shot enough for dominant Felix

Thames' solo shot enough for dominant Felix
MINNEAPOLIS -- Eric Thames is glad to be on Felix Hernandez's side, now that he's joined the Mariners in a midseason trade. And Hernandez can say the same after the former Blue Jays outfielder provided just enough offensive punch to lift Seattle's ace to a 1-0 victory over the Twins on Monday at Target Field.

Hernandez won his ninth straight decision -- tying his career high -- as he notched his team-record fifth shutout of the season with a five-hit blanking.

He became the third pitcher since 1969 to win four 1-0 games in a single season, joining Ferguson Jenkins (1974) and Bert Blyleven ('76).

Thames provided the lone run with a leadoff blast to left field in the eighth inning, his fourth home run since coming to the Mariners in a July 30 trade for reliever Steve Delabar.

"Before I came here, I only heard of his pitching line game-in and game-out," Thames said. "But seeing it for myself ... he's the real deal. That's why he's King Felix. That's why he's Cy Young, perfect game and all that stuff. I'm officially a believer, and I'm glad he's on my team."

Thames' long ball in the eighth gave Seattle its sixth straight win over the Twins and spoiled a strong start by rookie Liam Hendriks, who wound up on the short end of a duel with the hottest pitcher in the American League.

Hernandez, next scheduled to start Saturday afternoon against the Angels at Safeco Field, improved to 13-5 while lowering his ERA to 2.43. Over the past 14 starts, he's 9-0 with a 1.40 ERA with 100 strikeouts and 17 walks in 109 innings.

"His changeup was really on," said catcher John Jaso. "I could tell from the bullpen he was throwing it hard and I said, 'OK, this is a changeup day today.' I was putting my glove pretty much right down the middle, like thigh high, and just letting him throw it.

"I wasn't giving him a low target, because it was moving that much. I just felt comfortable having him throw it right down the middle and letting it do whatever it does."

What it does is baffle hitters on every team he's faced recently. Hernandez has now thrown shutouts against the Rangers, Red Sox, Yankees, Rays and Twins in his last 12 starts, with the perfect game against Tampa Bay included in that mix.

The Twins, with the worst record in the American League at 52-76, are just the latest victims.

"He had his changeup working and the fastball was moving real late," said right fielder Ben Revere, who went 0-for-4. "You think it's right there, and then it just leaves the strike zone. Curveball, slider, throwing for strikes or getting us to chase in the dirt, he was pitching pretty good."

Hernandez was particularly good when he needed, getting three straight infield outs in the seventh after a leadoff triple by Justin Morneau.

"It's just special stuff," said manager Eric Wedge. "Obviously, it goes without saying the most special part of the game was runner at third with nobody out and he leaves him out there."

For most of the game, the Mariners' offense couldn't make any headway against Hendriks, a 23-year-old Australian looking for his first career win in 14 starts.

Hendriks, 0-6 with a 7.06 ERA this season coming into the game, matched Hernandez zero for zero for seven innings. But Thames finally changed things with his opposite-field shot that just cleared the left-field fence.

Thames said he thought he had it all the way, even though Hendriks threw him a good pitch, a two-seam fastball right on the edge of the plate.

"I could hear how loud it was and I got all of it," said Thames. "I didn't know about the height. But once I heard the clank of the fence and the umpire, I was pretty fired up. It was a good feeling, especially knowing it gave Felix a lead. Once he has a lead, he's light's-out."

Franklin Gutierrez also wasted no time making his presence felt for the Mariners. In his first game after two months on the disabled list following a concussion, the 2010 Gold Glove winner went 1-for-2, walked, got hit by a pitch, stole two bases and stole an extra-base hit from the Twins with a catch at the top of the wall in the third on a deep drive by Trevor Plouffe.

"He's the best out there. He saved us right there," said Hernandez. "We need Franklin here. He helps the pitchers and everybody. That's big-time for us."

Gutierrez, sporting an ice pack on his right hand after the game where he got hit by Hendriks in the sixth, said he was just glad to be back. And, yes, the catch at the top of the fence was a nice reminder of what he offers.

"It's been a long time since the injury and now I'm coming back and my first game, I can do the things I know I can do," he said. "It feels pretty good any time you do something good and help your team. I'm ready to go."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.