SEATTLE (AP) — Realistically, the Seattle Mariners would need to be far closer to a playoff berth for Nelson Cruz to be in consideration for American League MVP.
But his numbers are becoming increasingly MVP worthy.
Cruz hit his AL-leading 39th homer on Wednesday, driving in three runs and backing eight strong innings from Felix Hernandez in the Mariners' 8-2 win over the Oakland Athletics.
Cruz had RBI singles in the first and sixth innings then added a solo homer off Oakland reliever Fernando Abad in the eighth. Cruz is now hitting .321 with 82 RBIs and is one shy of his league-leading home run total from last season.
"I can't talk about it. Like I said, I just play my game and whatever happens, happens," Cruz said. "If I got lucky enough to be considered, I'm blessed, but if not, I'm here to play games and win games and that's the only thing I care about."
Hernandez made just two mistakes over eight innings, rebounding after getting knocked around in his last start against the Chicago White Sox.
Hernandez (15-8) allowed a homer to Billy Burns on the first pitch of the game and a solo homer to Brett Lawrie on the first pitch of the seventh. Oakland's only other hit off Hernandez was a soft single from Billy Butler in the fifth.
Hernandez struck out seven, walked one and became the second AL pitcher to reach 15 wins.
"I found some things with my mechanics and I felt way better today. Fastball was there and I could locate it both sides of the plate," Hernandez said.
Hernandez spent significant time watching video after losing his previous two decisions while giving up 14 earned runs and 21 hits in losing to the Red Sox and White Sox. Hernandez said he was too quick in his delivery, which has led in the past to his pitches being too flat and not having the movement that makes him so successful.
Hernandez went so far as to throw a bullpen — just his second of the season — between starts to work on being slower in his delivery.
It worked. Between Burns' leadoff homer — just the third Hernandez has allowed in his career — and Butler's single in the fifth, the only Oakland batter to reach base was Eric Sogard, who was hit by a pitch in the third. Hernandez retired 12 of 13 batters and matched his victory total from last year.
Cruz's homer came late, but it was an early offensive outburst that backed Hernandez. Seattle sent 10 batters to the plate in the first and scored four times that inning off Chris Bassitt (1-6). Cruz had an RBI single in the first to score Ketel Marte and the two teamed up again for another run in the sixth off reliever Pat Venditte.
The Mariners strung together five straight hits in the first, beginning with Cruz, and got RBI hits from Seth Smith, Mark Trumbo and Logan Morrison. It was the first time all season Seattle batted through the lineup in one inning.
"I've got to make some adjustments, I guess," Bassitt said. "I just didn't feel good at all today."
Kyle Seager added a solo homer in the eighth, snapping a 0-for-14 drought.
Seattle is bumping Vidal Nuno from his spot in the rotation and inserting left-hander Roenis Elias beginning with Thursday's series opener in Chicago against the White Sox. But that might not mean Nuno is completely out of the picture. Seattle also announced its Sunday starter in Chicago is "TBA," a spot that was originally slated for struggling rookie Mike Montgomery.
Oakland starter Felix Doubront is in line to make his start Saturday against Oakland after leaving Monday's game with a right foot contusion. Doubront had X-rays that came back negative.
Athletics: After an off day, the A's open a series in Arizona with Sonny Gray (12-5) on the mound. Gray leads the AL with a 2.10 ERA.
Mariners: Elias makes his first start in the majors since July 2 as the Mariners open a road trip against the White Sox. Elias (4-6) lost three of four decisions with the Mariners in June and early July before being sent back to Triple-A Tacoma.