Preview: Lefty Blake Snell makes 1st start in hometown as Rays close out against Mariners

TV: FOX Sports Sun

TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 3:30 p.m.

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Blake Snell might just be a bit more pumped for Sunday afternoon’s start than usual.

The Tampa Bay Rays left-hander will make his first start in his hometown of Seattle.

And it will come against his childhood idol, longtime Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.

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“I’m excited to play at Safeco,” Snell told MLB.com. “It’s always been a dream of mine. To do it against Felix is going to be even more exciting.”

Snell (7-3, 2.56 ERA), who has won his past three starts, said facing King Felix might be bigger than pitching at home.

“With what he’s done, it’s just hard not to root for him,” Snell said.

Snell, who starred at Shorewood High School in the suburb of Shoreline, pitched at Safeco Field in the 2010 state semifinals. He went 6 1/3 innings in a 1-0 loss to Richland.

He said he expects to have between 15-20 friends and family members in the stands Sunday.

“I know he is going to be excited,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said of Snell. “He should be excited because he is going to have a lot of family and friends here. You always want guys to do good in their hometown. Guys generally get amped up to do it, you just hope they don’t put too much pressure on themselves.”

Snell has made two starts against the Mariners in his career, going 1-1 with a 0.87 ERA.

Snell hasn’t allowed an earned run in his past two starts and two or fewer runs in five of his past six.

Even without suspended second baseman Robinson Cano, an eight-time All-Star, the Mariners are tied with the defending World Series champion Houston Astros atop the American League West after getting a 3-1 win on Saturday.

“They are a good hitting team, and what they are doing right now is a reason why they are winning,” Snell said.

Hernandez (5-4. 5.83 ERA) has made 16 career starts against the Rays, going 8-2 with a 1.94 ERA. He threw the only perfect game in franchise history against Tampa Bay on Aug. 15, 2012, a game in which he struck out 12 batters.

But Hernandez has struggled this season. He has made just one start of more than six innings in 12 tries. His ERA in the first inning is 12.00.

“I feel disappointed. I think I’m disappointing my teammates the way I’ve pitched my last four starts,” Hernandez said after his last outing, in which he allowed five runs on six hits in five innings but didn’t get a decision in a 9-5 loss to last-place Texas. “That’s the way I feel. I just have to figure it out, and go out and compete. The way we’re playing, I just need to figure it out and be better.”

Hernandez, who prides himself on fixing his own mistakes, sought out pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre after his latest appearance.

“I don’t know if I’d call it rock bottom, but he’s obviously a guy that’s searching or frustrated with the results that he’s been getting,” Stottlemyre, whose father, Mel, was Joe Torre’s longtime pitching coach with the New York Yankees, told The Seattle Times. “I have to look past his history and what he’s done. I can only look into how we can get him in a good place that helps us win some games. He can still win some games.”