ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Rays have won three series in a row for the first time this season, and if they are to make it four when the Seattle Mariners come to town, they will have to build off a solid 5-0 win against the Houston Astros on Sunday.
"It's a great pattern," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "It's really good it's coming here at home, because we're not winning enough series at home. We talked about it before this series started, before this home stand started, we need to start winning ballgames at our park."
The first obstacle is right-hander Tijuan Walker, just 23 years old, who brings a 3-6 record but a 3.48 ERA. Seattle (34-29) has been on a slide, losing three of their last four and seven of their last 10, including a series at the Rangers.
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"A disappointing series," manager Scott Servais said. "We had some chances throughout the series to try to get us over the hump, and it just didn't happen. That's going to happen at times. I thought we were right there."
For the series as a whole, the Rays will have two lefties in the three games, with Drew Smyly pitching Wednesday and prospect Blake Snell, who will be called up for just his second career MLB start and first at Tropicana Field. Snell was USA Today's Minor League Player of the Year last season.
Snell's call-up puts him up against a Seattle lineup that hasn't fared well against lefties -- the Mariners are hitting .246 as a team against lefties, as compared to .267 against right-handed pitchers.
Both sides will see familiar faces in the series, thanks to an offseason trade -- Wednesday's starter for Seattle is Nathan Karns (5-2), who pitched for the Rays last year. He will likely face shortstop Brad Miller, who is batting .242 with six home runs and 20 RBIs, tying for the team lead with four stolen bases as well.
Seattle's bullpen has another former Rays pitcher in Mike Montgomery -- with an effective 2.27 ERA in 23 appearances, as he was in Kansas City, where the Rays had traded him in a deal for Wil Myers, also since departed from Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay is starting to get key bats back from injury -- second baseman Logan Forsythe returned last week and is back atop the Rays' batting order, though they continue to play without two of their speediest outfielders in Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer.
One of the replacements in the outfield, rookie Mikie Mahtook, stepped up in Sunday's win, getting a two-run single to triple his RBI total for the season as part of a key victory to wrap up the Astros series.
"It's huge, any time you can win a series, it's big," Mahtook said. "We are playing really good baseball right now. The guys in this clubhouse have never doubted each other and we believe in each other. We feel like we are a really good team. I think we are showing that right now by finding different ways to win, day in and day out."