Red Sox-Mariners Preview

The Associated Press

While Felix Hernandez hasn't been as sharp as in recent years, he turned in a vintage performance against one of baseball's least threatening lineups during his last start.

A repeat performance could prove difficult against a Boston Red Sox club that's posted plenty of crooked numbers of late.

Hernandez tries to win back-to-back starts for the first time this season Thursday night as the Mariners welcome in the surging Red Sox for the first of four.

After winning 19 games in 2009 and the AL Cy Young Award a year later, Hernandez is 19-19 with a 3.44 ERA since the start of last season - including a 5-5 record with a 3.36 ERA over 15 starts in 2012.

The right-hander compiled a 6.37 ERA over a six-start stretch before allowing a run and six hits over seven innings in a 2-1 walk-off win over San Francisco on June 17. He had the same line in Saturday's 5-1 victory at San Diego while striking out 10.

"Felix stepped up," manager Eric Wedge said. "We needed him to. He is our guy ... When he was down (in the strike zone), he was working good. You're seeing more life on his fastball. When he does that and on the plate and down, he's as good as it gets."

Hernandez went 4-1 with a 2.87 ERA in his first nine meetings with Boston (40-35) before getting hit hard in his last two, allowing 10 runs in 13 1-3 innings. Dustin Pedroia is 7 for 13 with a homer off Hernandez since 2009.

The Red Sox continued their recent offensive explosion Wednesday, cruising to a 10-4 win over Toronto thanks in part to David Ortiz's 399th career homer - his third in as many days.

That clinched Boston's fifth straight series victory. It's hitting .359 with runners in scoring position during an 11-3 run and averaging 7.4 runs in its last 10 heading into this seven-game trek.

"Our main thing is to win series," said Cody Ross, who's 8 for 19 with two homers in his last five games. "We did that here. Now we can go on the road with some confidence and make a run before the All-Star break."

The Mariners (32-45), meanwhile, are coming off their 12th loss in 17 games, 2-1 to Oakland on Wednesday. Seattle has been especially bad over its last four games, hitting just .189 while totaling four runs.

"It's frustrating because I know these guys are a much better offensive club than what we're seeing them do here at home," Wedge told the team's official website. "I don't want to hear anything about the fences or this, that or the other, it's about what they're doing at home plate, working to put up good at-bats and hitting the ball hard."

The Mariners could have a hard time faring any better against Boston's Franklin Morales (1-1, 3.12), who's been solid in two starts since moving to the rotation. He gave up two earned runs and seven hits over six innings in Saturday's 8-4 win over Atlanta.

"I feel really confident in myself," said Morales, who's struck out 17 over 11 innings in his starts. "I think it's good for me to be starting."

Morales gave up three runs over two innings of relief against Seattle last season, all on a home run by the currently injured Mike Carp.

The Red Sox have taken seven of nine from the Mariners, including a two-game home sweep May 14-15 while outscoring them 11-1.

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