Despite sitting in last place in the AL West, the Seattle Mariners have hopes of a late-season push thanks to a strong bullpen and timely hitting.
The Mariners (54-57) look to win their fourth straight series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (47-66) when the teams continue a three-game set at Safeco Field on Tuesday.
Seattle won the series opener 5-4 on Monday behind 4 2-3 scoreless innings from the bullpen. Julio Mateo pitched 1 1-3 innings in relief of starter Jamie Moyer to earn the win and J.J. Putz went 1 1-3 innings for his 24th save in 28 opportunities.
“We had the right people in there. That’s the whole thing,” said Mariners manager Mike Hargrove, whose team trails division-leading Oakland by 6 1/2 games. “The otherside of that coin is we have had to use those people a lot the last few days. You don’t know how deep they can go and you don’t want to take them beyond that and risk injury.”
Seattle’s bullpen has a 0.96 ERA over the last 11 games spanning 37 1-3 innings, and is 5-for-5 in save opportunities during that stretch. That success has been crucial as the Mariners’ rotation has a 4.68 ERA in those contests with only four quality starts.
Felix Hernandez (10-9, 4.49 ERA) hopes to improve upon those numbers when he takes the mound Tuesday for Seattle. The right-hander leads the team in victories and has won seven of his last 11 starts, posting a 3.63 ERA over that span.
He overcame tough weather conditions in Baltimore in his last outing, limiting the Orioles to one run and four hits over five innings in a 2-1 victory on Wednesday.
“At the beginning, (the heat) wasn’t that tough,” said Hernandez, who struck out four and walked four. “But pitch after pitch after pitch, I felt it. By the sixth inning, my command wasn’t that good.”
Hernandez has been tough to beat at home recently, going 5-1 with a 4.24 ERA while holding opponents to a .222 batting average in his last six starts there. He held the Devil Rays to one run and five hits over 7 2-3 innings while striking out eight in an 8-1 victory on May 9.
Hernandez hopes the Seattle lineup can come through as it did Monday when Adrian Beltre hit a two-run homer in the first inning and Raul Ibanez added a go-ahead two-run shot in the fifth. The Mariners improved to 27-6 when they have two or more home runs in a game.
Jae Seo (1-5, 5.23) will do his best to stifle those bats when he takes the ball for Tampa Bay. The right-hander allowed one run and seven hits over 6 2-3 innings, but didn’t receive a decision in the Devil Rays’ 2-1 victory over Detroit on Thursday.
He walked two and struck out four before leaving because of tightness in his left groin.
Seo, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 27, is 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in two career outings against the Mariners. He allowed two runs in two innings of relief against them on June 20 when he was still with the Dodgers.
The Devil Rays’ rotation should receive a boost this week after manager Joe Maddon said pitcher Scott Kazmir will be activated from the disabled list and start Friday in Oakland. The All-Star left-hander has been sidelined since July 23 with inflammation in his throwing shoulder.
Tampa Bay left fielder Carl Crawford tied a career-high with four hits on Monday, including a triple and RBI single, but the Devil Rays stranded a season-high 14 runners.
“It’s never a good number when it says 14, but I thought we had some good at-bats in some tight situations,” Maddon said.