SEATTLE — As the night wore on, Eric Wedge began to feel more comfortable standing back on the railing of the Seattle Mariners dugout and making baseball decisions for the first time in a month.
There just weren’t many highlights for the Mariners skipper.
“My energy was good and the focus was good. Just didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of action tonight,” Wedge said.
Chris Nelson hit a two-run homer off Felix Hernandez and the Los Angeles Angels ruined Wedge’s return to the dugout with a 2-0 victory over the Mariners on Friday night.
Wedge managed the Mariners for the first time since he had a mild stroke a month ago. He acknowledged being anxious about getting back on the bench and called his ailment “a heads up.”
Wedge’s month off was filled with doctor’s appointments and meetings, researching and relaxing, with the goal of figuring out why he had suffered a stroke at 45 years old and how to prevent it from happening again.
“It’s a shot across the bow, it’s a mulligan, it’s a heads up,” Wedge said before the game. “And I’m taking it as such.”
The Mariners welcomed back their boss with the kind of offensively inept performance that has become far too common in Wedge’s three seasons.
“I think that’s going to be one of the final steps for us offensively as a ball club, just to stay away from these inconsistencies,” Wedge said. “Just to put up better ABs and grind out better ABs and be tougher outs. Where even if you aren’t scoring runs, you’re driving up pitch counts and you’re doing some things to make it difficult for the other team.”
Not much was difficult for Los Angeles starter Garrett Richards (4-5), who allowed four hits in 7 1/3 innings. Two relievers finished the five-hitter for the Angels. Only once all night did Seattle get a runner to second base and all five of its hits were singles.
“He’s got a live arm. It just dives and cuts,” Seattle’s Brad Miller said of Richards. “I thought he did a pretty good job the second, third time through using that curveball, keeping us off balance. He pitched a great game.”
Nelson snapped an 0-for-17 slide when he connected in the second for his third homer. Josh Hamilton scored on Nelson’s long ball after leading off the inning with a single, and it was the only time Hernandez (12-7) was touched all night.
The biggest problem for Hernandez was the gem Richards was tossing on the other side.
Richards (4-5) struck out four and walked two, but was forced out of the game after taking a liner off his right forearm from Dustin Ackley. The right-hander had thrown just 89 pitches and was in line for a career performance before leaving. Richards had a forearm contusion but the ball missed his elbow. Dane De La Rosa finished off the eighth and Ernesto Frieri pitched the ninth for his 27th save.
“I didn’t have my sharpest stuff in the beginning and as the game went on I got a feel for the breaking ball and the extension on my fastball,” Richards said. “I was just filling up the zone and throwing quality strikes and going right at guys.”
Hernandez was handed consecutive losses for the third time this season, even though he was cruising in his final innings. But a taxing fourth inning where he had to throw 29 pitches and left runners stranded on the corners ended up equaling an early exit. Hernandez struck out Grant Green to end the threat in the fourth, and then struck out four of the final six batters he faced. He recorded 10 strikeouts for the 25th time in his career and the fourth time this season.
“The first three innings, I was throwing a lot of pitches. I was throwing a lot of pitches, but after the third, I was making the adjustment and pound the strike zone and mixing all the pitches that I have,” Hernandez said. “It’s tough game. Richards throw an unbelievable game, so you got to give credit to that.”
Seattle finally got multiple runners on base in the same inning when Miller led off the sixth with a single and Kyle Seager walked on a 3-2 pitch with one out. Richards quickly defused the threat, getting Kendrys Morales to ground into a double play. He also got Endy Chavez to ground into a double play to end the seventh after Justin Smoak singled.
MARINERS NOTES: Minor leaguer D.J. Peterson, Seattle’s first-round pick in the June draft, underwent surgery in Iowa to repair a broken jaw after he was hit in the face by a pitch on Thursday night. Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik said Peterson might need a second surgery to fully repair the injury. … Seattle 2B Nick Franklin missed his second straight game with a laceration on his knee.