The Toronto Blue Jays are coming off their longest game ever, but the pitcher they'll face in the opener of an eight-game road trip is certainly capable of balancing that out.
Felix Hernandez will try to extend his MLB-record run of 15 starts of seven innings or more with two runs or fewer Monday night as the Seattle Mariners host the taxed Blue Jays. If any club is particularly likely to end the streak, though, it might be Toronto.
Hernandez (12-3, 1.97 ERA) is 8-2 with a 1.42 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and .168 opponents' average in those starts, the latest of which resulted in a 4-2 home win over Atlanta on Tuesday. The Seattle ace allowed a run and four hits while striking out eight over eight innings for his first victory in four starts.
Manager Lloyd McClendon elected to remove Hernandez after just 97 pitches as he tries to keep his staff fresh for a push at an AL wild-card spot.
"I'll continue to protect my pitchers," McClendon told MLB's official website. "I'm trying to play meaningful games in September, not have a pitcher throw a complete game in the first week of August. My objective is to try to get this team as far as I can and hopefully that's the playoffs. We have our eyes set on it, I don't know if we can get there or not, but I want Felix healthy, strong and moving forward in September."
Hernandez has been roughed up by Toronto more than any other team in 11 starts, going 4-5 with a 4.95 ERA. It gets even worse at Safeco Field, where the Blue Jays have tagged him with two losses and a 10.80 ERA in three outings.
Colby Rasmus is 5 for 7 against Hernandez and Jose Reyes is 3 for 5 with a home run.
While Toronto (63-56) might not have had much of a break as it flew to Seattle, the team has had no respite from elite pitching. Hernandez is the third straight Cy Young winner the Blue Jays will face after Detroit's David Price and Max Scherzer. However, they should have some confidence after getting victories out of the first two.
Sunday's 6-5 win in 19 innings ended when Jose Bautista singled in Munenori Kawasaki and sparked a celebration that was 6 hours, 37 minutes in the making.
"It was a long day today and coming out on top is the only thing that matters," said Bautista, who has reached base in 19 straight games.
Melky Cabrera reached eight times Sunday alone, going 3 for 5 with five walks to become the first player to reach eight-plus times in one game since Rod Carew had five hits and three walks for Minnesota on May 12, 1972. Cabrera is batting .388 with a .488 on-base percentage over his last 17 games.
As if facing Hernandez isn't a tall enough task, Toronto starter Drew Hutchison is the recipient of added pressure knowing his bullpen is drained. But Hutchison (8-9, 4.39) was actually more impressive than Hernandez in his last start, allowing one hit - a solo homer - while striking out eight in 8 2-3 innings of Wednesday's 5-1 win over Baltimore.
That followed a start in which he was chased after three innings, and his manager was quick to remind after the dazzling performance that the 23-year-old is still growing.
"He's still a young kid. He's not physically where he's going to be," manager John Gibbons said.
Hutchison hasn't faced Seattle (62-55), which enters the series 1 1/2 games behind Kansas City for the second wild card.
The Mariners have won five of six after Sunday's 4-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox. Logan Morrison extended his hitting streak to 11 games, though just one has been a multihit effort.
The Associated Press News Service
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