The Oakland Athletics will be out to avoid their first four-game losing streak in more than three months but have to face one of baseball’s top pitchers.
The visiting Athletics have a quality pitcher of their own on the mound Friday night, having unbeaten rookie A.J. Griffin match up with Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez in the opener of a three-game set.
Oakland (76-60) holds one of the AL’s wild-card spots, but the Angels moved within 2 1/2 games of their division rivals by sweeping three games this week. The Athletics, who haven’t lost four in a row since a nine-game slide May 22-June 1, had won a season-high nine straight before the series with Los Angeles.
Now Oakland will try to regroup on a seven-game trip. The Athletics are trying to win seven in a row on the road for the first time since 2005.
“We’re not afraid to play on the road,” manager Bob Melvin told the team’s official website. “We’ve had some success on the road. I don’t think that’s something we’re looking at as daunting.”
The first game won’t be easy against Hernandez (13-6, 2.51 ERA), who lost to the Angels on Saturday for his first defeat since June 12. The former Cy Young Award winner allowed five runs over 7 1-3 innings in a 5-2 loss, giving up four runs in the eighth.
Hernandez, who owns the majors’ lowest ERA, went 9-0 with a 1.40 ERA over his previous 14 outings.
“I felt good,” he said. “I felt the same. I was throwing the ball pretty good until the eighth. I feel strong.”
The right-hander has defeated Oakland more than any club, going 13-5 with a 2.63 ERA in 25 starts. He’s 1-1 with a 3.10 ERA in four outings versus the A’s this year, with Cliff Pennington - a .207 hitter - surprisingly enjoying the most 2012 success against him by going 5 for 13.
Griffin (4-0, 2.26) figures to be up to the challenge of squaring off with Hernandez in his first career start against Seattle (67-71).
He’s the first pitcher in Oakland history to begin 4-0 as a starter. Griffin is the only big-league pitcher since at least 1918 to allow three runs or fewer and walk two batters or fewer in each of his first nine career starts.
The right-hander retired the first 14 batters and yielded one run with no walks over seven innings Saturday to earn a 7-1 victory over Boston.
Seattle, 7-6 in this season series, has won 14 of 21 overall to match last season’s victory total as it tries to finish with a winning record.
“It should mean something to them,” manager Eric Wedge said. “These guys have worked hard to get better and they are better. And they’re going to keep getting better.”
The Mariners rank last in the AL with 531 runs while their major league-best 2.87 home ERA would represent the best mark in franchise history. They’re 18-4 at home since July 25.
Their offense could receive a boost if a pair of outfielders return Friday from groin injuries. Michael Saunders has been out since last Friday while Franklin Gutierrez missed Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Boston.