Rangers-Mariners Preview

Elvis Andrus is providing a spark for the Texas Rangers.

Strong pitching is also helping.

Andrus attempts to continue his recent offensive burst and give Joe Saunders some much-needed run support as the Rangers try to get back to .500 on Saturday night against the Seattle Mariners.

Andrus has five hits and three runs as Texas (33-34) has won back-to-back games following a four-game skid. The two-time All-Star shortstop was instrumental to Friday’s 1-0 victory at Seattle in the opener of this three-game series. His second hit was a single in the ninth, and he stole two bases before scoring on a fielder’s choice.

Andrus has hit .379 with six RBIs and as many runs over his last eight games at Safeco Field.

Good pitching, though, has been a bigger key for the Rangers of late. Yu Darvish tossed a six-hitter in Wednesday’s 6-0 win over Miami, then Nick Tepesch and three relievers combined on a two-hitter as the Rangers beat Mariners ace Felix Hernandez on Friday.

"It’s just a win. We see King Felix a lot so it’s just a win," manager Ron Washington said.

Washington’s club hasn’t posted three straight shutouts since July 2011 and will need a big effort from Saunders (0-2, 3.60 ERA) to do it Saturday. He’s facing the Mariners (34-33) for the first time since going 11-16 with a 5.26 ERA for them last year.

He’s been much better when facing Seattle, particularly at Safeco. The left-hander is 8-1 with a 3.52 ERA in 15 career starts versus the Mariners, including a 2.13 ERA while going 6-0 over his last nine games against them in Seattle.

Saunders hasn’t won anywhere since beating Houston with the Mariners on Aug. 31, going 0-5 in his last eight starts. He spent nearly two months on the disabled list with an ankle injury but has pitched well in three starts since returning, allowing four earned runs in 16 1-3 innings.

However, the Rangers have backed him with a total of two runs in those games.

The offense mustered one run of support for Saunders on Sunday, when he allowed three runs – two earned – with a season-high four walks in 5 1-3 innings of a 3-2 loss to Cleveland.

"Working through jams, getting out of jams and trying to get deeper into the ballgame, trying to save the bullpen a little bit – that’s going to be the goal from here on out," Saunders told the team’s official website. "No excuse, you’ve just got to get guys out."

The Mariners are batting .175 with seven runs during a four-game slide, and Mike Zunino had both of their hits Friday.

Erasmo Ramirez (1-4, 5.97) is seeking his first win since April 1. That victory drought nearly ended Monday at Tampa Bay, but he was pulled after allowing two men to reach with two outs in the fifth inning. The right-hander gave up four hits and a career-high five walks in the 3-0 win.

Ramirez went 0-2 with a 7.94 ERA over his previous four outings.

"He was OK. It was better than his last two or three outings," manager Lloyd McClendon told the team’s official website. "He made some good pitches at times. We just have to get him to slow down a little bit out there and concentrate on what he’s doing, but for the most part, I was pleased."

McClendon pulled Ramirez after two-plus innings at Texas on April 17, getting charged with five runs but not getting a decision in an 8-6 defeat.