Mariners going for sweep of Rangers

SEATTLE — Through two games at Safeco Field, the Texas Rangers have managed to shirk just about all preconceived expectations entering the series.

Texas had won its previous series while the Seattle Mariners had won two games all year. The Rangers led the American League in home runs — and Seattle pitchers hadn’t exactly been shy about serving them up.

Yet, after the series’ first two games, it’s already etched in stone that it will go down as a loss for Texas. And on Friday, the Rangers snapped a streak of their first nine games this season in which they hit a home run.

Felix Hernandez and James Paxton combined hold the Rangers to just one run through the series’ first two games, 2-1 and 5-0 losses, respectively. In the series finale, Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma will try to match his rotation mates as he goes up against Texas left-hander Cole Hamels.

Seattle already earned its first series win of the year. Now, it will be going for its first sweep.

The whole series against the Rangers has changed the outlook of the Mariners’ season. They’ve gone from 2-8 and in last place to 4-8 and vying to get out of the American League West cellar.

“Texas has got a good team. They’ve got a real good team,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Obviously their third baseman, (Adrian) Beltre, is out and he’s a big part of what they do. But Felix (on Friday) and Paxton (on Saturday), the goal is to get back to winning series. We got this one, now it’s time to finish it off.”

The Mariners have turned in their two best pitching performances of the young season in their first two against Texas. Maybe it’s because they haven’t needed to rely on a bandied together bullpen, like they so often did in the season’s first week.

Seattle has the second-worst bullpen ERA in baseball, sporting a 7.13 ERA even after two nights of pristine performances. Nick Vincent struck out the side Saturday night, and Edwin Diaz found his sugar — and control — on Friday as he whiffed two and earned a save, closing out 7 1/3 one-run innings from Hernandez.

If the Rangers are to change their fortunes — if they are to hit a home run or even score a run — they may need to chase Iwakuma earlier rather than later. He’s gone six innings in each of his first two starts of the season but has yet to get a win despite pitching to a 2.25 ERA.

Hamels, too, is still in search of his first win of the season. He allowed just a single run over seven innings his last start against the Los Angeles Angels, but they would score five more against the Texas bullpen to rob Hamels of a win.

Hamels has struggled at Safeco Field, going 2-3 with a 5.79 ERA in five career starts.