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Royals-Mariners Preview

AP - Sports

It's been 11 years since the Seattle Mariners swept a four-game series at home.

Felix Hernandez could change that.

Hernandez will try to continue his outstanding beginning to the second half by winning his fourth consecutive start Sunday against the light-hitting Kansas City Royals.

After rookie Jesus Montero's two-run homer helped them win 4-3 on Saturday, the Mariners (46-57) have a chance for their first four-game sweep at Safeco Field since April 19-22, 2001, against the Anaheim Angels.

Seattle's last four-game sweep came in Anaheim from July 7-10, 2005.

"We've been playing some good ball lately," closer Tom Wilhelmsen told the Mariners' official website after the club improved to 4-2 since trading Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Yankees.

The Mariners, winners of six of seven against Kansas City (41-59) this season, continue their 10-game stretch at Safeco Field with Hernandez (9-5, 2.80 ERA) trying to win a sixth consecutive decision.

The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner didn't have his best stuff in Tuesday's 4-2 victory over the Yankees, as he hit three of the last five batters he faced, but he gave up just two runs in 7 1-3 innings.

Hernandez is 5-0 with a 1.49 ERA in his last eight starts and 3-0 with a 1.11 ERA since the All-Star break. Included in that stretch is a 6-1 win in Kansas City on July 19 when he went eight innings.

Will Smith (2-3, 6.26) took the loss in that contest after striking out five and giving up four runs in 6 1-3 innings. It was the rookie left-hander's first appearance since being sent to Triple-A Omaha on June 5.

Smith looked nothing like a minor leaguer his last time out, throwing seven innings of two-hit ball in a 4-1 victory at the Angels on Tuesday.

"This is a tough lineup to navigate through, and he really got locked in during the fourth inning,'' manager Ned Yost said. "He had thrown more balls than strikes to that point and his command was off a little bit, but he was wild enough that he was tough to hit. Then he just settled in and really started commanding the ball.''

Smith will need to have good stuff when he faces Montero, who tagged him for a solo homer July 19 to spark Seattle's three-run second inning.

With two more hits Saturday, Montero is batting .609 (14 for 23) with two homers, three doubles and 10 RBIs in six games against the Royals in 2012.

Kansas City, meanwhile, has dropped four in a row overall and is batting .192 with six runs during a four-game skid against Seattle.

Designated hitter Billy Butler has been one of the few bright spots for the Royals, recording seven of the team's 16 hits this series.

Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas, who is 0 for 8 in this series, is day-to-day after suffering a sprained right knee Saturday.

Kansas City has lost 13 of 16 away from home.

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