CHICAGO - It looked like one of those lineups managers throw out there on Sundays, when the regulars need a little breather.
Only it was a windblown Saturday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field and the Chicago White Sox were about to face Felix Hernandez, the ace of the Seattle Mariners. Chicago even went with fifth starter Dylan Axelrod despite the first week's schedule providing an opportunity to skip him and throw Sox ace Chris Sale against Hernandez.
After a 4-3 victory, however, Sox manager Robin Ventura's lineup decisions looked brilliant, right down to Axelrod dueling with Hernandez and Alex Rios hitting his second home run in as many games to provide the winning runs and continue a hot start at the plate.
"Ax was matching (Hernandez) out there," Ventura said of 27-year old Axelrod, who threw 5 2/3 innings and allowed just one unearned run in a no-decision. "You never can tell. (Axelrod) was great. He did what he needed to do to get to (the sixth) and Rios (came up) with a big homer. It was good. He showed he can pitch with anybody."
Sitting out the game for Chicago (3-2) were starting first baseman Paul Konerko, catcher Tyler Flowers and left fielder Dayan Viciedo, who all played during a cold 3 hour, 42 minute 10-inning loss to the Mariners on Friday night. Jeff Keppinger shifted from third to first for Konerko, Hector Gimenez started behind the plate and Conor Gillaspie made his first start of the season at third. He went 2-for-3 with a triple, single and two runs scored and made a great play in the fifth to start an inning-ending double play.
"Baseball's kind of a crazy game," said Gillaspie, who's likely to get another start in the series finale on Sunday. "I was pretty nervous. I'm not going to lie. (Hernandez) threw a couple balls over the plate and you can't miss against a guy like that, because you're probably going to get out if you (do.)"
Rios didn't miss the changeup Hernandez left high during his four-pitch at bat in the sixth with Alejandro De Aza on first and one out. It was the third changeup Hernandez threw in the at bat and Rios made him pay with a majestic 417-foot homer to left field that gave Chicago a 4-1 lead.
"I was just trying to look for a ball right over the plate," Rios said. "He throws 94, 95 (mph) and (Saturday) he was in the low 90s. I was just looking for that pitch right over the plate and I think I got it."
Axelrod delivered a strong start before giving way to the bullpen with two outs in the sixth, two on base and the game tied 1-1. Donnie Veal (1-0), who earned the win, struck out Ibanez to keep Seattle scoreless that frame and then gave way to four more Sox relievers.
Despite a two-run homer by Michael Saunders off Matt Thornton in the eighth, the Chicago bullpen preserved the win. Addison Reed pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his third save and struck out Franklin Gutierrez and Miguel Montero to end it.
It spoiled a potential milestone day for Hernandez, who came into the game with 99 career victories and 1,495 career strikeouts. Had Hernandez, who turns 27 on Monday, struck out five, he would've joined Bert Blyleven (1,728), Walter Johnson (1,683), Sam McDowell (1,653) and Dwight Gooden (1,541) as the only pitchers in major league history to record at least 1,500 strikeouts before their 27th birthday.
He came up two short and gave up four runs, all earned, in 6 1/3 innings.
"I had the fastball ... I didn't have the command," Hernandez said. "My command was not there. I was starting to make good pitches but the wind was (blowing) hard. Just one mistake on the (Rios) homer and that's about it."
Early on, it looked like Hernandez was on his way to a win. The Mariners (3-3), who also made a couple of lineup changes, gave him a 1-0 lead in the second when Raul Ibanez doubled with one out and scored on a fielding error by Keppinger after Ibanez advanced to third on a passed ball.
Axelrod, though, matched the Seattle ace through the first five innings before the Sox tied it up 1-1 in the bottom of the fifth, keyed by Gillaspie's leadoff triple.
Each starter ran into trouble in the sixth, but Veal got Axelrod off the hook with a big swinging strikeout of Ibanez to strand runners at first and second. Hernandez wasn't quite as fortunate, giving up a leadoff single to De Aza and then Rios' homer.
Axelrod also got out of a jam in the fifth, after allowing a leadoff single by Justin Smoak and then walking Dustin Ackley. Seattle backup catcher Kelly Shoppach couldn't get an attempted sacrifice bunt down and struck out looking for a big first out. Brendan Ryan then hit into a double play to Gillaspie, who stepped on third and fired to first to end the inning.
"The last couple nights we did a decent job getting the bunt down," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said, "but we didn't get it down today."
Notes: In Sunday's game, the Sox will unveil the commemorative throwback uniforms from the 1983 season they will wear for every Sunday home game this year. It's the 30th anniversary of the Sox's "Winning Ugly" team that won the American League West Division. ... Keppinger went 0-for-4 after coming into the game just 1-for-17 (.059) in the season's first four games. Ventura said he's not concerned about Keppinger's offense just yet, but he might sit on Sunday. ... Mariners starting center fielder Franklin Gutierrez did not start after going 3-for-5 with a home run, three RBI and three runs scored on Friday night. It was mainly a precautionary move with the oft-injured Gutierrez, according to Wedge. "I'm trying to keep him ahead of it," Wedge said. "I feel like it's a smart thing to give him a day."
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