The Seattle Mariners are thriving behind superb pitching. The
Tampa Bay Rays are experiencing the complete opposite, but may have
an edge on the mound against the Mariners this time.
Jeremy Hellickson looks to build on one of his best performances
of the season when the Rays give him the ball during this four-game
series at Seattle on Saturday.
The Mariners (30-27) have won 14 of 18 with a 2.07 ERA – 1.05
from the bullpen – to move into second place in the AL West, 1 1/2
games back of Texas.
Tampa Bay hasn’t come close to getting that type of production
from its pitchers, who have compiled a 4.94 ERA during a 6-13
stretch. The rotation has been a major problem while dropping four
of five with a whopping 9.35 ERA.
Starters James Shields and Andy Sonnanstine have been hit hard
while losing the first two games of this series, combining to
surrender 15 runs and seven homers in nine innings.
The Rays were four-hit by Jason Vargas in Friday’s 7-0 loss
after managing eight hits while striking out 11 times against Felix
Hernandez in an 8-2 defeat a night earlier.
Tampa Bay hasn’t dropped four in a row since opening the season
“Things are getting a little frustrating, but we’ve been here
before, specifically the way we opened the season the way we did,”
said B.J. Upton, who is in a 2-for-26 slump. “I know at some point
we will come out of it and things will start clicking again.”
Hellickson (6-3, 2.80 ERA) may provide some relief for Tampa Bay
as he attempts to tie the league lead in wins in his first meeting
with the Mariners.
The right-hander is 5-1 with a 1.83 ERA in his last six starts,
holding opponents to .187 at the plate and scoreless in three of
them. He turned in another superb outing Sunday, yielding three
hits and fanning six in seven innings of a 7-0 win over Cleveland
and was named AL rookie and pitcher of the month.
“He’s definitely a candidate,” manager Joe Maddon said of
Hellickson’s chances to be AL Rookie of the Year. “I really believe
as he gains more experience, you’re going to see him get even
better. He has not been as sharp with his fastball command as he
can. Once that arrives, he’s really going to take off.”
While the Rays are hoping Hellickson can help turn them around,
Casey Kotchman is expected back in the lineup after missing five
games with an ankle injury.
The first baseman is hitting .316, nearly 100 points higher than
his career average. He batted .217 with Seattle last year, and will
face his former club for the first time since joining Tampa Bay as
a free agent.
The Mariners are turning to Doug Fister (3-5, 3.24) to keep them
rolling, and he was impressive in Monday’s 4-3 win over Baltimore.
The right-hander yielded three runs and seven hits with nine
strikeouts in 7 1-3 innings, ending a one-month victory
“You look at his stuff, the way he approaches his game plan and
sticks to it, the way he’s able to make adjustments and make
pitches,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said, “He’s not just a one-
or two-pitch guy. He has weapons beyond that. What I see a guy who
really understands himself.”
Fister has split two starts versus the Rays with a 4.09 ERA.
Adam Kennedy, who connected for a two-run shot Friday, is 11 for
27 with six RBIs over his past seven games – all Mariners