Felix Hernandez returns from his second shoulder injury of the season when the Seattle Mariners visit the Texas Rangers on Thursday for the finale of their four-game series. The 31-year-old Hernandez has missed the past six-plus weeks with his latest injury as his most-recent outing was a no-decision against the Rangers on July 31.
The Mariners are hoping Hernandez and staff ace James Paxton (slated to return from a pectoral injury on Friday) can provide a boost as they try to chase down Minnesota for the American League’s second wild-card spot. Mike Zunino reached base four times and clubbed two solo homers in Wednesday’s 8-1 victory as Seattle remained 3 1/2 games behind the Twins while Texas dropped fell four games back. The Rangers were outscored 18-4 in back-to-back losses after winning the series opener and are just 5-10 against the Mariners this season. Texas slugger Joey Gallo is homerless in 11 straight games since going deep on Sept. 1 and appears unlikely to duplicate the 11 blasts he smashed in August.
TV: 8:05 p.m. ET, ROOT Northwest (Seattle), FSN Southwest (Texas)
PITCHING MATCHUP: Mariners RH Felix Hernandez (5-4, 4.28 ERA) vs. Rangers RH Andrew Cashner (9-9, 3.19)
Hernandez hasn’t been all that stellar even when healthy this season, serving up 16 homers in just 13 starts - his career worst is 23. The veteran has pitched more than six innings on just three occasions and hasn’t posted a single 10-strikeout performance - stunning for a guy with 2,333 in his career. Hernandez is 1-0 with a 3.55 ERA in two starts against the Rangers this year and 19-23 with a 3.93 ERA in 52 career outings.
Cashner has pitched well over his last three starts, going 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA. He settled for a no-decision against the New York Yankees in his last turn, when he allowed one run and four hits over seven innings. Cashner is 1-1 with a 2.60 ERA in three starts against Seattle this season and 1-3 with a 3.26 ERA in seven career appearances (six starts).
1. Rangers C Robinson Chirinos is 8-for-18 during his six-game hitting streak and has reached base in each of his last 27 contests.
2. Mariners RF Mitch Haniger is 7-for-14 with a homer in the series and 26-for-55 with four homers and 11 RBIs over his last 13 games.
3. Texas 1B Mike Napoli (stress reaction in right leg) missed his third consecutive game Wednesday and is questionable for the finale.
PREDICTION: Rangers 7, Mariners 4