Hernandez Shuts Down Pirates to Lift M's

The Associated Press
Friday, June 22, 2007; 2:24 AM

SEATTLE -- Felix Hernandez was worried he'd never regain the form he had in early April, before a forearm injury knocked him out for a month. So it was a huge relief Thursday night, when he shut down the free-swinging Pittsburgh Pirates for eight innings in the Seattle Mariners' 3-0 win.

The Pirates were shut out for the second straight game and the eighth time this season, most in the major leagues. They haven't scored in 20 innings.

"Geez, I was worried," Hernandez said with a wry smile. "I wanted to throw a good game to keep the confidence up."

Hernandez said this was by far the best he's felt in seven starts since returning from a month on the disabled list on May 15.

"He was filthy," said Nate McLouth, who had one of the six hits off the 21-year-old ace.

Ichiro Suzuki had two more hits for the Mariners, who won again following a six-game losing streak. Suzuki's single during an 11-pitch at-bat against John Van Benschoten in the fifth inning drove in the game's first run and extended his hitting streak to 16 games, the longest current one in the majors. Suzuki has at least one hit in 41 of his last 43 games.

One night after Jeff Weaver's startling four-hitter and first win of the season, Hernandez (4-4) struck out nine and walked one. He had gone 1-3 with a 5.97 ERA in his previous six starts since returning from the DL.

Before going on the DL in April, Hernandez struck out 12 in eight scoreless innings against Oakland on opening day and threw a one-hitter at Boston.

"Everything was like the first two games of the season," he said, citing improved balance because of a more deliberate pitching motion.

Hernandez finished his night by fanning Adam LaRoche for the third time. He celebrated with a pump of his right arm as the Safeco Field crowd roared in appreciation.

J.J. Putz allowed Jason Bay's single in the ninth before finishing up for his 20th save in as many chances.

"You knew eventually Felix would get there," Mariners manager Mike Hargrove said. "We just needed it sooner rather than later."

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