By TAYLOR BECHTOLD
(AP) — While they should be feeling confident with their AL Cy Young candidate on the mound, the Seattle Mariners are hoping a familiar face can provide a boost for their sluggish offense.
Felix Hernandez looks to match a major league record and the re-acquired Kendrys Morales is set to make his debut Friday night when the Mariners try to snap their skid against the visiting Baltimore Orioles.
The Mariners’ offensive woes continued Thursday when they finished with five hits and were shut out for the 12th time – tied for most in the AL – in a 4-0 loss in the opener of this four-game set.
Seattle (53-49) has averaged 2.2 runs while dropping 11 of 17, and ranks near the bottom of the AL with a .244 batting average and a .371 slugging percentage on the season.
Looking to bolster their production as they attempt to earn a wild card spot down the stretch, the Mariners acquired Morales from Minnesota for relief pitcher Stephen Pryor on Thursday.
The first baseman/designated hitter hit 23 home runs and drove in 80 runs for the Mariners last season, but turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer and signed with the Twins on June 8. He’s hitting .234 with one homer and 18 RBIs in 39 games.
“He’s a professional hitter,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He gives us the opportunity to stretch out our lineup, so to speak. He’s a nice fit, switch-hitter, hitting behind Robbie (Cano).”
The Mariners likely won’t need too much extra scoring as Hernandez (11-2, 2.02 ERA) looks to keep them from losing four in a row for the first time since a five-game skid from June 10-14.
Hernandez leads the AL in ERA and ranks second with 155 2-3 innings and 163 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting .197 against him, third lowest in the league.
The All-Star right-hander is 7-1 with a 1.37 ERA during 12 consecutive starts of at least seven innings while allowing two or fewer earned runs. Tom Seaver holds the major league mark with 13 straight such starts June 17-Sept. 16, 1971.
“It’s mind-boggling,” McClendon told MLB’s official website.
Hernandez allowed one unearned run and two hits over seven innings Saturday, but walked a season-high four in a 3-2, 12-inning road win over the Los Angeles Angels.
“That’s when I get into trouble, when I walk people,” said Hernandez, who is 5-4 with a 3.44 ERA in 15 starts versus Baltimore.
He’s posted a 2.20 ERA in his last nine outings against the AL East-leading Orioles (56-45), but hasn’t beaten them in four starts – all Seattle losses – since April 2010.
Nick Markakis is 13 for 28 lifetime versus Hernandez, while Nelson Cruz is 3 for 9 with a home run the past two seasons.
The Orioles, hitting .207 since July 9, could be without third baseman Manny Machado for a fourth straight game due to back spasms. Delmon Young provided a lift Thursday with a three-run homer to help them improve to 4-3 on this 10-game trip.
Kevin Gausman (4-3, 4.04) will try to regroup after allowing five runs and a career-high nine hits over four-plus innings in Sunday’s 10-2 loss at Oakland. He hasn’t given up more than two runs in consecutive starts this season.
The right-hander has never faced the Mariners, though Cano went 2 for 3 off him in 2013 while with the New York Yankees. The All-Star second baseman is just 3 for 21 in his last five contests.
Gausman may have to cool off Dustin Ackley, who is batting .444 during a seven-game hitting streak.
Updated July 25, 2014
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