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LAA@SEA: Hernandez fans nine, allows one run

SEATTLE -- Felix Hernandez is feeling good these days. Really good. And that's not a good thing for American League hitters.

The Mariners ace continued his hot start to 2014 with his fourth straight win Wednesday, stifling the Angels on four hits over 8 2/3 innings as the Mariners rolled to a 3-1 victory at Safeco Field.

Hernandez improved to 7-1 with a 2.57 ERA, becoming the first Mariners pitcher since Jamie Moyer in 2003 to win seven games before June 1.

And ominously for opposing hitters, the 28-year-old was consistently hitting 93-95 mph with his fastball, which is noticeably up a couple ticks from what he's thrown over the past few years when he relied more on his wicked changeup and quality four-pitch arsenal than the high heat from early in his career.

"I've still got it," Hernandez said with a grin after dispatching the Angels. "I don't use it all the time, but I've still got it. … I feel really good. My elbow feels fine, my shoulder feels good. It's all the work I put in every day."

Catcher Mike Zunino, who accounted for all Seattle's scoring with a two-run single in the second and a solo homer in the eighth, said Hernandez has had extra life on his fastball over his last two starts and it's added to his already imposing weaponry in what is quickly turning into a special season for the 10-year veteran.

"I think we're all getting accustomed to how he's been throwing," Zunino said. "He's just coming out and establishing the fastball early and just going to his off-speed pitches when he needs to. He's been able to go the first few innings of games just using his fastball, then going to off-speed pitches a little later and that's getting him deeper into ballgames. His command has been really good and his stuff has just been electric."

Hernandez had two walks and nine strikeouts in a 116-pitch outing, coming within one out of his first shutout since 2012 until Mike Trout singled and Albert Pujols laced an RBI double in the ninth.

That brought Fernando Rodney on to retire David Freese for his 13th save as the Mariners improved to 6-2 this season against the Halos.

"I definitely wanted that," Hernandez said. "One out away from a complete game. But that's fine."

The Mariners ace has had his struggles with the Angels in the past and is still just 10-13 with a 3.76 ERA against the American League West rivals in his career, but he's beaten them twice this season and is 4-1 with a 2.42 ERA in seven starts vs. the Halos since the start of last year.

Former teammate Raul Ibanez knows Hernandez is tough enough as is, let alone with renewed velocity.

"He's got four [tough pitches]," Ibanez said after an 0-for-3 night. "He's got a great changeup. And he's throwing harder again. You've got to respect his fastball, too. He throws strikes. He knows when to throw it for a strike and knows when to bury it."

Hernandez is burying everyone lately, going 4-0 with a 2.30 ERA and 30 strikeouts and four walks over his last four starts.

"He was phenomenal," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "Right from the start, I thought he had great command of all his pitches. His fastball was really, really exceptional tonight. I think that's two times in a row you can see he's starting to get stronger. Pretty impressive. And his breaking stuff was sharp. Just a great night for him."

Zunino provided the offensive heroics for Hernandez, which is also becoming a familiar trend. The 23-year-old catcher is hitting .357 with 12 RBIs in Hernandez's 12 starts and five of his seven homers on the season have come in those games.

"It means a lot," Zunino said of helping out his batterymate. "Working with him all the time and trying to keep him in the ballgame, he does so much for us, keeping us in every ballgame he starts. To give him some runs is huge."

And yes, Hernandez is aware of the young catcher's support, though he said there's no deal in place. At least not yet.

"I don't know, but we've got to talk about it," Hernandez said. "Man, he's doing pretty good, every time I pitch. So that's good for me."

Zunino snapped an 0-for-10 slump with his timely two-run single and later added his seventh homer in a 2-for-3 night with three RBIs.

After ending April with a .274 average, Zunino was hitting .182 in May and had seen his average drop to .230 before hiking it back to .239 Wednesday.

"The kid did all right tonight," McClendon said. "He continues to impress, continues to grow. He's learning every day. Every day's a new day for him, but he continues to get better."

Hernandez zipped through three perfect innings before Howie Kendrick led off the fourth with a walk and Trout followed with a base-on-balls. But Hernandez got out of that situation with some help from Zunino, who gunned down Kendrick trying to steal third with one down before Freese whiffed for the final out.

Hernandez then proceeded to keep the Angels off-balance -- and off base -- for most of the night until Trout and Pujols got to him as he tried to close things out. But he's still gone eight-plus innings in each of his last three starts and is now 20-0 with a 0.67 ERA in his last 26 starts of eight or more innings dating back to Aug. 31, 2011.

The Mariners take a 2-1 series lead into Thursday's finale at Safeco as they evened their record at 26-26, which is four games better than last year's 22-30 mark through 52 games.

The Angels fell to 29-23, 2 1/2 games back of Oakland in the AL West.

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