While the Seattle Mariners just got knocked around by one of the weaker teams in baseball, they should have a big edge on the mound Thursday night.
Felix Hernandez is scheduled to start opposite Justin Grimm as the slumping Mariners open a four-game set against the visiting Texas Rangers.After beating lowly Houston 3-0 on Monday, Seattle (4-6) gave up 24 runs and 37 hits in losing the last two games of the series. Before those two, the Astros totaled nine runs and a .188 average during a six-game losing streak.The Mariners saw their ERA rise to 5.40 with Wednesday's 8-3 defeat, dropping to 2-6 over their last eight contests.Seattle now turns to Hernandez (1-1, 2.57 ERA) in hopes of bouncing back. However, after allowing three hits and striking out eight in 7 2/3 innings of a 2-0 win at Oakland on April 1, Hernandez struggled in Saturday's 4-3 defeat to the Chicago White Sox.The right-hander was tagged for four runs and six hits over 6 1/3 innings while managing just three strikeouts -- he tied for fifth in the majors last year with 223."I don't think he had his best stuff," manager Eric Wedge told MLB's official website. "He always competes and pitches, but he didn't quite have the same fastball he typically has, and I think that probably leaked into his secondary stuff."Besides a lack of velocity, Hernandez had a hard time hitting his spots."I was opening up too much. I was going too quick," he said. "The stuff was there today, but it was the command. That was the problem. When I don't have my command, it's tough to pitch."Hernandez had gone 10-16 with a 4.03 ERA over 32 starts against the Rangers (6-3) before giving them fits in two meetings last year. The former AL Cy Young Award winner threw eight innings of one-run ball in a 6-1 win May 21, then struck out 12 in a three-hitter July 14.Among Texas hitters to have problems with Hernandez in recent years are Nelson Cruz and A.J. Pierzynski, who are a combined 7 for 42 against him since the start of 2010.Lance Berkman hasn't faced Hernandez since 2007 but enters this matchup batting .480 and got a day off Wednesday.Without him, Texas lost 2-0 to Tampa Bay after posting wins in the first two games of the series. The Rangers were limited to four singles and a double Wednesday, and they went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.Grimm could use a much better performance from the offense Thursday. The 24-year-old right-hander is expected to be recalled from Triple-A Round Rock to start in place of the injured Matt Harrison, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list due to a sore back."I just expect him to come and keep us in the ballgame," manager Ron Washington said of Grimm. "He's a strike-thrower, and he understands how to use those strikes. It doesn't have to be a no-hitter, a perfect game, none of that. Just keep us around."Grimm went 1-1 with a 9.00 ERA last year in five games -- two starts.He won't have to face Michael Saunders, who was removed from Wednesday's loss with a sprained shoulder after crashing into the wall in the first inning. Saunders had hit safely in each of the previous seven games, going 8 for 24 with five RBIs."He's going to have to miss some time. It's just a matter of how much time," Wedge said. "It could be a DL situation."Michael Morse figures to be back in the lineup following a day off. The slugging left fielder leads the AL with six home runs.