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Felix, Mariners rule on 'Supreme Court' night

SEATTLE — It was a "Supreme Court" Friday night at Safeco Field, and the man of the hour was up to the task.

"King Felix" Hernandez shut down Oakland on four hits through seven-plus innings and struck out 11 as Seattle survived a late rally by the A's to win 6-4.

Seattle's bats were alive, too, with 12 hits, including sixth-inning home runs by shortstop Brad Miller and catcher Mike Zunino, as the Mariners (6-3) moved into first place in the American League West, a half-game ahead of Oakland (6-4).

The "Supreme Court" promotion was in honor of Hernandez, with fans throughout the Safeco crowd of 38,968 wearing commemorative yellow T-shirts and flashing yellow "K" cards whenever he got two strikes on a hitter.HERNANDEZ

That happened a lot. Hernandez served up a masterpiece before yielding to the bullpen with no outs and two on in the seventh inning and Seattle comfortably ahead 6-0.

"Felix was outstanding," said Seattle's first-year manager, Lloyd McClendon. "His stuff was exceptional. He had a great mix of his pitches, too."

The Mariners' bullpen, which came into the game with an AL-best ERA of 1.75, didn't exactly close the door. The A's got four runs in the eighth and threatened again in the ninth before closer Fernando Rodney struck out the batter representing the tying run -- pinch-hitter Coco Crisp -- to end it.

Hernandez -- who is now 3-0 in his first three starts for the first time in his career -- was all smiles when asked about the Safeco atmosphere afterward.

"The fans were unbelievable," he said. "And I had a real good game, right? It was really good to see."

Hernandez threw strikes on 71 of his 104 pitches. He walked nary a batter.

"I was throwing the curveball really well, putting it where I wanted," he said. "I felt really good. I'm happy with that."

"That curveball has been his go-to pitch the past two starts," said Zunino, the 23-year-old catcher who had two hits to raise his average to .281. "That combined with the changeup, and the fastball, too -- he had great command of everything."

Left fielder Dustin Ackley enjoyed the scene, too.

"It was pretty cool, the way he was dominating, the way he was getting the crowd into it," said Ackley, who went 3 for 4 to improve to .286. "When he's on, he's on. It's like, 'What is he doing out there?' He's throwing changeups anywhere from 88 to 93 (mph). I don't even know how that's possible. I'm glad I don't have to face him, that's for sure."

McClendon was asked if there's a different feel within the Mariners with Hernandez on the mound.

"It's probably the same thing when the Tigers have (Justin) Verlander or (Max) Scherzer going," said McClendon, a Detroit coach from 2006-13. "You have a real good chance of winning."

Good thing Hernandez is a rock at the front of the Seattle rotation. The rest of the starting group is still in flux, with Hisasi Iwakuma and promising rookies James Paxton and Tajuan Walker all on the disabled list.

Iwakuma -- the No. 2 starter who was third in AL Cy Young voting a year ago -- has been out since the start of spring training with a strained tendon in his right middle finger. The Japanese right-hander, who turns 33 on Saturday, is getting closer, though. He threw 35 pitches in a Wednesday bullpen and will have a 50-pitch session on Saturday.

"He's doing well," McClendon said. "We have to build the pitches up before we get him out there doing a couple of rehab assignments."

The Mariners are hopeful Iwakuma will be able to take the mound sometime early next month.

Paxton, 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his two starts this season, is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained back muscle. The M's will be careful with the 25-year-old left-hander, who should settle into the third or fourth spot in the rotation.

"He took a shot (in the back on Thursday)," McClendon said. "It will be seven or eight days before the doctors re-evaluate and start him on a rehab program."

The X-factor is Walker, the 21-year-old right-hander who was minor league starter of the year last season in the Mariners' chain. Walker was shut down for a week of spring training with bursitis in his throwing shoulder but his looked strong in a pair of minor-league rehab assignments, fanning 10 in five scoreless innings for Double-A Jackson in a 4-2 victory over Mississippi on Wednesday.

McClendon said Walker and Blake Beavan are candidates to pitch against Texas on Tuesday.

"Nothing has been settled yet," McClendon said. "When we do decide (to call him up), we want to be cautious with Taijuan and make sure he's ready to pitch at this level. The game's a little bit more stressful than it is in the minor leagues. … the number of pitches you throw, and the outs you get at this level are harder to get. We have to take all of that into account when we decide we're going to bring him up.

"It has nothing to do with lack of experience. It has everything to do with the lack of work in spring training because of the injury. We have to make sure the guy is ready to compete at this level, that there are no limitations. It has to be 100 percent all in."

Veteran Chris Young, 23-year-old Erasmus Ramirez and another rookie, Roenis Elias, are the other Seattle starters for now. As a stopgap measure, they'll be fine.

The real question is if the Mariners have enough batting punch to be a veritable playoff contender.

"We're getting better," McClendon said. "Is there room for improvement? Yeah. To be the type of team I want us to be, we have to get better. But I'm pleased where we're at at this point in the season."

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Twitter: @kerryeggers