Preview: Wilmer Font opens things up as Rays try to snap out of funk vs. Mariners

TV: FOX Sports Sun

TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Starting pitching has been a strong part of why the Seattle Mariners are leading their division with a 39-22 record, as was the case with Mike Leake on Thursday, and potentially again Friday with the tear that Marco Gonzales is on.

“When your starting pitching can get in a rhythm and get deep in games, it can kind of carry the momentum for you and your defense and keep them in the games,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said after Thursday night’s win over Tampa Bay. “It’s going to allow them to want to jump around and make diving plays. I think there is a little something to be said with how we are rolling right now (with) starting pitchers.”

The Mariners are now 4-0 against the Rays (28-33) this season, and if that is to change, Tampa Bay will have to overcome major adversity as it relates to starting pitching. Seattle continues to dominate — Leake pitched into the ninth on Thursday, while the Rays continue to use relievers as “openers,” which set up Austin Pruitt throwing seven innings in relief in Thursday’s loss.

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Seattle has gotten four straight dominating starts from Gonzales, who has wins in his last three outings, with just one earned run allowed in 26 innings over those four starts. He faced the Rays in Seattle last weekend, going 6 2/3 innings and holding Tampa Bay to five hits and one earned run, striking out six in his only career outing against them. In those four starts, he’s lowered his season ERA from 5.31 to 3.38.

Tampa Bay has lost seven straight — two short of the longest by any team in the majors this season — and has only led in one of the seven games. Thursday saw them down 5-1 with two outs in the ninth, only to manage a three-run double from Johnny Field before the Mariners closed it out with one more defensive play.

“We have to make some adjustments, at the plate or on the mound,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’re capable of it. We’ll bounce back.”

The Rays will try to do so Friday with reliever Wilmer Font, pitching for his third team this season, getting the start. Font has pitched well since joining the Rays late last month, with a 1.50 ERA in four games, allowing only three hits and one run in six innings. For the year though, he’s 0-2 with a 9.78 ERA, having dropped that down from 14.85 when he arrived in Tampa Bay.

Font has had extended relief work this season, getting 74 pitches in one outing with the Dodgers and 72 in one with the Athletics, but he’s yet to go more than 40 with the Rays. This is his first career start as the Rays continue to employ relievers as “openers” while they push through numerous injuries to their starting rotation, most recently to top pitcher Chris Archer. The Rays have struggled at the plate as well, totaling just 16 runs in their seven-game losing streak.