Thanks to strong pitching, the Seattle Mariners are winning by slim margins.
Another tight contest could be in store Thursday night when the Mariners send Felix Hernandez(notes) to the mound to face James Shields(notes) and the scuffling Tampa Bay Rays in the opener of a four-game set at Safeco Field.
Seattle (28-27) has won 12 of 16 as the staff has compiled a 2.20 ERA - 0.88 by the bullpen. Eight of those 16 contests have been determined by one run, with six resulting in Mariners victories.
They’re 13-10 in one-run games on the season. Only Minnesota (25) has played more games decided by a single run.
Seattle won two of three from Baltimore with each game a one-run affair including Wednesday’s 2-1 loss. The Mariners hit .180 and scored eight runs in the series.
“Every game we are playing is tight,” manager Eric Wedge said. “Our starters have done a great job, bullpen has done a great job. Every now and again you’re going to get snake-bit, but I can’t say enough about the job they are doing.”
Wedge now turns to Hernandez (5-4, 3.19 ERA), who is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in six home meetings - all Seattle wins - versus the Rays (29-26). However, the right-hander didn’t face them at all last year as the Mariners dropped seven of nine meetings, including all three at Safeco.
The reigning AL Cy Young winner may benefit from Tampa Bay’s offensive woes, as the club hit .204 while dropping two of three to Texas including a 3-0 defeat Wednesday.
Hernandez, though, had to battle through his most recent start Saturday, tossing a career high-tying 128 pitches while allowing four runs in seven innings. The Mariners eventually beat the New York Yankees 5-4 in 12 innings.
“I just want to throw a close game because I know the guys are going to score,” Hernandez told the team’s official website. “We’re over .500 and that’s awesome. We’re together, we’re doing a great job and we’re picking each other up.”
Seattle may be in for another tough test at the plate as the Rays give the ball to Shields (5-3, 2.15), who is tied with Hernandez for the AL lead with 81 strikeouts.
Shields has a 2.35 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 23 innings over his last three starts, but only a 1-2 record to show for it as the Tampa Bay offense has provided him seven total runs of support.
The right-hander, 4-0 with a 1.88 ERA in five road outings, struggled early Saturday, allowing three runs in the first two innings before shutting out Cleveland over the next five of a 7-3 loss.
Shields is aware that his margin for error will be slim opposite Hernandez. He’s 0-1 despite a 1.18 ERA in two previous matchups with the Mariners ace, who yielded one run with 15 strikeouts over 14 2-3 innings in those games.
“I’ve faced him a bunch of times in the past, and it’s kind of a battle,” Shields told the Rays’ official website. “He is pitching really, really well right now, and I’m going to go out there and pitch my game.”
Shields has won his last two starts at Safeco since he last lost to Hernandez there April 23, 2009.
Tampa Bay, which has dropped five of six on the road, is opening the first of its two 11-game trips this season.