SAN DIEGO — Felix Hernandez put his mini-slump to rest with a strong eight-inning effort. Brendan Ryan turned in a double play for the ages, and also sneaked a home run just inside the foul pole. Kendrys Morales served his usual role as offensive instigator.
But this 7-1 Mariners win Thursday at Petco Park belonged to the rookie, Nick Franklin, who turned his fourth major-league game, and his third start, into his own coming-out party.
A day after banging out his first career hit, Franklin notched his first homer in the fifth inning off Padres starter Andrew Cashner.
And then, for good measure, he added a second homer in the eighth, making him the fastest Mariner ever to achieve a two-homer game at the start of his career. Jose Cruz Jr. had done it in his sixth game in 1997.
“Wow. Big day for Nick,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “Good for him. He hit a couple of balls really good. You can see, even in the short period of time he’s been here, he’s a little more comfortable, gaining some confidence.”
The 22-year-old Franklin noted before the game that his nerves had been lessening by the day since his call-up on Monday to replace Dustin Ackley. And a day like Thursday’s, which also included some sharp defense at second base, is bound to accelerate the adjustment period.
“I’m still getting my feet wet, and I’m enjoying every bit of it,” he said. “Just trying to stay relaxed, and hopefully I can help the team and contribute to wins.”
Franklin’s first homer went out to right-center, but just barely. It landed in the sandy beach area near the Mariners bullpen and was retrieved for Franklin’s trophy case by bullpen catcher Jason Phillips.
“I thought the center fielder was going to catch it,” Franklin said. “The second one felt a little better, and I felt that was going to have a better chance to go out.”
All these milestones have been witnessed by Franklin’s parents, who flew from Florida to watch their son’s debut in Seattle and are accompanying him on the trip to San Diego and Minneapolis before heading home.
“They’re enjoying it a lot,” he said. “Actually, I think they’re enjoying it more than I am.”
The Mariners, having lost 10 of their previous 12 games, were enjoying their five homers — Morales and Endy Chavez went deep along with Franklin and Ryan — and a turnaround effort by Hernandez. In his previous two outings, both losses, he had given up 19 hits and 11 runs in 11-2/3 innings.
This time, however, Hernandez limited the Padres to just three hits and one run in eight innings, striking out six. He had vowed after his last start, a loss to Texas, that he was going to get back on track.
“That was my mindset,” he said. “When I was warming up in the bullpen, I felt pretty good. Today I just needed to step up. I was coming from two struggling outings and I had to go out there and throw good pitches. That’s what I did today, and we played unbelievable defense back there.”
That was exemplified by Ryan’s brilliant play in the fourth that thwarted a Padres rally. They had already scored one run off Hernandez and had runners on first and second with one out when Jedd Gyorko hit a smash to Ryan’s left. He flagged the ball with a dive, and while sprawled on the ground flipped it from his glove to Franklin, who made a strong throw to first with the runner bearing down on him.
“Brendan Ryan is a special player,” Wedge said. “He’s a special shortstop. I think anybody can see that. That’s making a play early in the game that gets lost as the game plays out, but early in the game that’s a difference-maker. Felix was battling a little bit that inning; for Brendan to make that play, that was huge for us.”
That fact wasn’t lost on Hernandez, who was demonstrative in his appreciation of the inning-ending play.
“The best part is getting the outs, but the second-best part is Fifi’s reaction every time,” Ryan said, referring to the Hernandez nickname that is prominent in the Seattle clubhouse. “That’s where the reward is. You loved to see your pitcher get fired up like that. That brings everyone together. That’s why he’s so special.”