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Hernandez closes strong with win over Rangers

Sep 30, 2006 - 10:36 PM SEATTLE (Ticker) -- The Seattle Mariners had big plans for Felix Hernandez this season. In his final start, he gave them more hope for next season.

Hernandez allowed four hits over seven strong innings and Adrian Beltre homered twice to lift the Mariners to a 3-1 victory over the Texas Rangers.

A 20-year-old righthander, Hernandez began the season considered by many to be the best young pitcher in baseball. However, he was closely monitored by the Mariners - who limited his pitch counts - and never got into a rhythm.

Hernandez (12-14) came into Saturday's outing just 1-5 in nine starts since August 2. But he finished on a strong note and appears ready to assume the role of staff ace in 2007.

"The kid really, really was throwing well," Mariners manager Mike Hargrove said. "He had a shutout (a five-hitter August 28 vs. Anaheim) about a month ago that was probably his best outing for nine innings. Had we allowed him to go nine today, I think this outing would have rivaled that one. This was an awfully good start for him."

"Everyone talks about the fact that he has such great potential to be a great pitcher," said Rangers shortstop Michael Young, who was held without a hit. "He's already a pretty good pitcher. His potential is off the charts. He had great stuff today and threw a great game."

Throwing just 84 pitches, Hernandez struck out five without a walk. His only mistake came in the seventh, when Mark Teixeira broke up his shutout bid with his 33rd homer.

"Honestly, it wasn't the season that I expected," Hernandez said through and interpreter. "I wanted something more. All I can do now is work hard for next season. I have nothing specific I am going to work on in the offseason. I think I have everything pretty much the way I want it."

"It was kind of an up-and-down season for him," Hargrove said. "It was a very typical first year for a young kid that is 20 years old. But he didn't tire out. He didn't give up. He kept working and saved his best for last."

Hernandez had been staked to a 3-0 lead by Beltre, who notched his second multi-homer game of the season and 14th of his career. He connected for a two-run shot off Kevin Millwood in the third and his 25th homer in the sixth.

Beltre has three homers in his last two games and 18 since the All-Star break.

"Since the All-Star break, Adrian has swung the bat better and better each day," Hargrove said. "We're giving him some drills to work on in the offseason and hope he can pick it up in spring training and see where it will go."

Joel Pineiro pitched a hitless eighth and J.J Putz worked around a hit and walk in the ninth for his 35th save.

Millwood (16-12) allowed three runs and six hits in six innings, striking out five. He ended his campaign with consecutive losses.

"Millwood pitched well enough for us to win," Rangers manager Buck Showalter said. "It's typical of what Kevin has done for us all year."

Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki extended his major league record by stealing his 39th straight base in the third.

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