OAKLAND, Calif. -- Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez lost his pitching groove in his past two starts, but history tells us he'll be at the right place to get it back Saturday afternoon when he faces the Oakland A's at the Oakland Coliseum.
Hernandez is 11-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 22 career starts at the Coliseum. Overall against the A's, he's 22-8 with a 2.67 ERA in 42 career starts.
Hernandez is 10-5 with a 3.75 ERA this season, but in his past two starts, both against the Texas Rangers, he went 1-1 with an 11.17 ERA, allowing 12 runs on 10 hits and walking eight in 9 2/3 innings. Hernandez gave up six runs and walked four over 5 2/3 innings Monday in a 14-6 victory against the Rangers.
"He had some (command) issues," Mariners manager Scott Servais said Friday before Seattle's 3-2 victory against Oakland in the series opener. "Kind of got away from him in one inning. He threw 48 or 49 pitches. Very un-Felix like. He did hang in there and get through it. It's been a really weird year for him I think, even from the start of the season before the injury.
"The command, the walks have been up, bottom line. It's not typical of him, but he's found a way to keep us in games. You look up, he's got 10 wins now. He's done what we needed him to do. It just hasn't been the over-the-top domination performances that we're used to seeing."
Hernandez went on the disabled list on June 1, retroactive to May 28, with a strained right calf and missed 43 games. Since coming off the DL on July 20, he's gone 6-1 with a 4.62 ERA in starts over 64 1/3 innings. He allowed 56 hits, including 10 home runs, struck out 54 and walked 30 during that span.
"I think the consistency of his curveball has maybe not been as good," Servais said. "That's always been there for him. Some outings it's better than others. That's the one pitch that probably hasn't been as consistent. The changeup's still there. It's a matter if they can lay off it or not."
The Mariners pulled to within 3 1/2 games of Baltimore and Detroit for the second wild-card playoff spot in the American League.
Gaining more ground Saturday could be a challenge when they face right-hander Kendall Graveman (10-9), the A's hottest pitcher. Over his past six starts, Graveman went 4-2 with a 1.93 ERA. He struck out 21 and walked six over 42 innings during that stretch.
Graveman's worst start during that span came against the Mariners on Aug. 13 in a 4-3 loss at the Coliseum. He allowed four runs on four hits, including first-pitch home runs to Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, over six innings.
"I thought I threw the ball well, all except a couple of pitches there," Graveman said.
Graveman will make his team- and career-high 28th start of the season. He's the only member of the A's original rotation who hasn't missed a start and hasn't spent time on the disabled list.
"Based on the fact we've had so many guys go down, and to have the stability of a guy making every start and giving the team the confidence they have when he takes the mound is paramount," A's manager Bob Melvin said.
"But for him to know he can go through a season like this and get stronger as the season went along, knock wood, he's done his best work here the last month, and is going deeper in games, too. That's something that's difficult to do over the course of the season and it speaks to his conditioning, how he takes care of himself. Because a lot of times this time of year guys are going the other direction, and he seems to be getting better and better."
After going 1-6 with a 5.36 ERA in his first nine starts, Graveman has gone 9-3 with a 3.18 ERA over his past 18.
Graveman is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in three starts against the Mariners this season and 1-2 with a 3.71 ERA for his career. Graveman's lone win against Seattle came last season on July 4 at the Coliseum in his lone career start against Hernandez.
Graveman pitched seven shutout innings in a 2-0 victory, while Hernandez allowed two runs over seven innings and took the tough loss.
"It's going to be a good matchup," Graveman said. "They've been playing some good baseball over there. I'm excited."