Blanton, A's unable to slow Mariners

Blanton, A's unable to slow Mariners

OAKLAND -- The A's have made a handful of pitchers look like aces with occasional off-nights at the plate this season, but Seattle's Felix Hernandez doesn't need any help.

He is an ace, and he outpitched a less-heralded ace Wednesday night in a tidy 4-2 Mariners victory, continuing his recent pattern of dominance over the hosts in the opener of a two-game series at McAfee Coliseum.

"He pitched his butt off," said Daric Barton, Oakland's only player with two hits. "He threw a great game. You have to give him credit."

A's manager Bob Geren took it a step further after Hernandez, who went 4-0 with a 1.29 ERA in four starts against Oakland last season, scattered eight hits and walked one while striking out eight in his first complete game of the year.

"That was one of the best-pitched games we've seen," Geren said. "It's difficult to really pitch much better than he did."

After a rocky first inning, Oakland starter Joe Blanton was nearly as good, but Seattle's early uprising was all Hernandez needed.

Blanton, who went 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA in four starts against the Mariners in 2006 but slipped to 1-2 with a 4.18 ERA against them last season, gave up a single to Ichiro Suzuki to open the game, and that's never a good idea.

Ichiro moved to second on a passed ball and scored on the first of three singles by Raul Ibanez, who moved to third on a double by Adrian Beltre. Ibanez and Beltre scored when Jose Vidro's medium-depth humpback liner eluded Oakland center fielder Ryan Sweeney's diving attempt and rolled to the wall for a two-run double and all the cushion Hernandez would need.

"He had all four pitches working -- low fastball at 97-98 [mph], good slider, good curveball, good change," Geren said. "Pretty impressive."

A 22-year-old whose nickname is "King Felix," Hernandez gave up four hits in the first two innings. But Oakland's run in the second was unearned, and of the four hits, only Bobby Crosby's double -- he lined into the corner in right -- was hit with any authority.

After Kurt Suzuki's infield single in the second, Hernandez retired 13 of the next 14 batters he faced and went almost completely unscathed until Jack Hannahan singled in the eighth, moved to second on a single by Travis Buck and scored on a single by Mike Sweeney.

"His fastball was great today, especially early in the game, and that's what helped us a lot," Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima said. "[The A's] are a very unique team. They are not very aggressive. They like to take pitches, so our main goal today was to throw first-pitch strikes with the fastball, and that worked out very well."

That same approach didn't work at all for Blanton, who found a way to last eight innings and keep the A's close despite allowing a career-high-tying 12 hits.

"I just kind of kept going," Blanton said. "I threw a lot of fastballs early, and they were pretty aggressive with it, so I started throwing more offspeed stuff early in the count to get 'em off it."

After making that adjustment, Blanton cruised through his final five frames.

"When you have a guy who throws as many strikes as Joe does, you have to beat him with a lot of hits," Geren said. "[After the first inning], I thought he did a real nice job for us. It's huge bonus having a guy like that who'll stay in there and compete and give you a chance to win the game. And we did have a chance there at the end."

Not at the very end. After getting a double-play ball to limit the damage in the eighth, Hernandez, still throwing in the mid-90s, worked a perfect ninth.

"What can you say?" Barton said with a shrug. "He's one of the better pitchers in the game."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.