Rays-Mariners Preview

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

0-6.

“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

drought.

“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

victories.