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Nationals-Mariners Preview

AP - Sports

Felix Hernandez hasn't performed up to his lofty expectations recently, something the rest of the Seattle Mariners can relate to after a tough series against the worst team in baseball.

The Washington Nationals aren't exactly coming into this matchup on a positive note, either.

Hernandez and Jordan Zimmermann take the mound Friday night in Seattle as the top two pitching staffs in the majors meet in a three-game series.

The Mariners (72-60) are in a tight battle with Detroit for the AL's second wild card but just dropped two of three to Texas, falling 12-4 on Wednesday.

"We just have to flush it," left fielder Dustin Ackley said. "We know what our pitching is going to do the rest of the way out. (Wednesday) wasn't a reflection of what we've done all year on the mound, and I think Friday will be a different story."

Manager Lloyd McClendon, who will miss this game and Saturday's contest to attend his daughter's wedding, decided to push his rotation back one day by recalling Erasmo Ramirez. He gave up a career-worst 10 runs in three innings.

"It was the right thing to do," McClendon said. "That game is over with. We got our butts kicked. That happens. It hasn't happened very often to us this year. We've just been that good with our pitching."

Seattle leads the majors with a 2.99 ERA, with Washington (75-57) second at 3.13. Hernandez (13-4, 2.07 ERA) is a major reason for the Mariners' top mark, though he's struggled a bit over his last two outings.

Hernandez set a major league record by making 16 straight starts of at least seven innings and two or fewer runs allowed, then pitched five innings of two-run ball in a 4-2 loss to Detroit on Aug. 16.

The right-hander following that up by giving up three runs while throwing a season high-tying 116 pitches in 5 2-3 innings of a 5-3 win over Boston last Friday. He allowed a three-run homer to Yoenis Cespedes in the sixth and didn't get the decision.

McClendon, who will pass managing responsibilities to bench coach Trent Jewett in his absence, isn't worried about Hernandez.

"Felix is fine," McClendon said, before repeating it.

Hernandez will get his first look at the Nationals, who hold a comfortable lead over Atlanta atop the NL East despite being swept by last-place Philadelphia this week.

Washington had won 12 of 13 entering that series, which concluded with the Phillies' 8-4 win Wednesday. Denard Span homered and had three hits while Ian Desmond went 3 for 4 with an RBI.

The Nationals haven't lost four straight since June 12-15.

''We're still playing good baseball,'' Desmond said. ''We just lost a couple games. We know who we are.''

Manager Matt Williams knows his club still is in good position in the playoff race and is putting the rough series behind him.

''We always have the same approach, win or lose,'' Williams said. ''We look forward to the next one. We know if we do things correctly, we have a good chance to beat the other team.''

Having Zimmermann (9-5, 2.93) on the mound could help, too.

Zimmermann is 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA in five starts this month after giving up two runs - both in the first - over eight innings of Saturday's 6-2 win over San Francisco. He's pitched into at least the seventh in each outing and has 27 strikeouts and three walks in that stretch.

The right-hander has never faced Seattle, which has lost all nine meetings since Washington relocated from Montreal in 2005. This will be the first matchup since 2011.

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