Hernandez returns to Mariners' rotation vs. Astros

STATS/TSX

Felix Hernandez's banishment to the bullpen did not last long.

With staff ace James Paxton on the 10-day disabled list after taking a line drive off his left forearm in the first inning last Tuesday in Oakland, "King Felix" will return to the rotation when the Seattle Mariners host the American League West-leading Houston Astros in the opener of a three-game series on Monday night.

Hernandez (8-11, 5.62 ERA) is scheduled to be opposed by Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole (11-5, 2.71).

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Hernandez lost his spot in the rotation after going 8-10 with a 5.73 ERA in 23 starts this season.

After 398 career starts, the veteran right-hander made his first relief appearance after Paxton was hit by Jed Lowrie's liner.

Hernandez wound up going 5 2/3 innings in that game, allowing two runs -- both on a Lowrie home run -- and five hits with two walks and two strikeouts.

"It was weird," Hernandez admitted. "I just tried to throw as many pitches as I could to get loose. It was a little different. But I'm a professional, so I had to do my job and I did it."

It was enough for manager Scott Servais to put him back in the rotation.

"You have to look at the options we have," Servais said. "I've said all along he could end up back in the rotation. I was hoping it wouldn't be something like (an injury). But he certainly stepped up. When Felix is throwing strikes at the bottom of the strike zone and competing like that, he'll get good results."

The Mariners could use a lengthy start from Hernandez after dropping two of three to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Seattle sandwiched a 10-inning win around two losses while it was outscored by a combined 23-2 margin.

Utilityman Andrew Romine appeared twice on the mound in the series.

"Our bullpen has taken its toll," Servais said. "Unfortunately, it's where we're at. When the game gets out of hand like that and you have got to run a position player in there -- nobody wants to do it -- but (I'm) just trying to manage things going forward."

Hernandez will face the Astros for the first time this season. He's 4-6 with a 4.27 ERA in 12 career starts against them.

Cole is 2-2 with a 2.10 ERA in four career starts against the Mariners, three of them this season. He lost his past two against them, 2-0 on July 30 in Seattle and 5-2 on Aug. 10 in Houston.

The Astros regained sole possession of first place in the AL West with a 9-4 victory Sunday at Oakland, as Justin Verlander won his 200th career game and Houston blasted five home runs. The Athletics had tied the Astros atop the division by winning the first two games of the series.

"That was one of the tougher wins I've had to get this season," said Verlander, who was doused with champagne by teammates in the clubhouse after the game. "Our boys swung the bats and that made for a great day."

As for the AL West?

"It's a good race," Verlander said. "These guys (the A's) are no fluke whatsoever. We have the toughest division in baseball, without a doubt. The three teams are going to fight and claw all the way to the finish."

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