Mariners head home to face AL West-leading Rangers

After losing the final six games of their recent road trip, the Seattle Mariners should be happy about playing at home for the next week. That excitement may be a bit dampened, though, as their first opponent will be the first-place Texas Rangers.

The two AL West rivals open up a three-game series on Friday night.

Seattle's recent swing got off to a good start as the club took two of three from the New York Yankees. Things went south after that, with the Mariners getting swept in a four-game set by the Cleveland Indians before dropping back-to-back encounters with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

After losing a 12-0 game to begin the quick two-game set, the Mariners were bested 7-1 by the Angels on Wednesday. Kendrys Morales had three of his club's seven hits, while Michael Saunders prevented another shutout with an RBI single in the eighth inning.

Brandon Maurer, who went to high school six miles from Angel Stadium, had a forgettable start against his hometown team. The 22-year-old rookie gave up seven runs on 11 hits before being pulled after three ineffective innings.

"Tough day for Maurer. He wasn't able to keep the ball down," said Mariners manager Eric Wedge, whose club has allowed 46 runs over its six-game skid.

Joe Saunders will try to get his club back into the win column and he is one Mariner who is happy to be home regardless of the opponent. That's because the left-hander is 3-0 with a 0.94 earned run average in four starts at Safeco Field this season compared to an 0-4 mark and 11.25 ERA in five on the road.

Saunders' road numbers took a hit last time out in a no-decision at Cleveland on Saturday. He was charged with four runs and a season-high 11 hits over 5 1/3 innings and afterwards sounded as though he is ready to take some extreme measures to fix his road struggles.

"I'm going to sacrifice live chickens before my next road start," the 31-year- old joked.

His assault on poultry will have to wait as he plays host to the Rangers, who he is 3-8 against lifetime in 13 starts with a 6.30 ERA. He allowed just one unearned run over seven innings of a no-decision against the Rangers at home on April 13, but was hammered for seven runs in 4 2/3 frames of a loss in Texas six days later.

The Rangers come into this series with a 5 1/2-game lead over Oakland for first place in the AL West and avoided getting swept in three games by the Athletics with Wednesday's 3-1 victory.

All of Texas' runs came in the first inning, with David Murphy hitting a two- run homer and Adrian Beltre adding a solo shot to give the Rangers their 10th victory in 14 games.

Those homers also made Ross Wolf a winner in his first major league start and 26th career appearance. Wolf claimed the first win of his career after allowing just one run, three hits and two walks over five-plus innings.

"For him to come up and pitch and get his first big league win, it's cool to say you were a part of it," Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski said.

Looking to get the Rangers off to a good start in this series will be Justin Grimm, who snapped a personal three-start slide with a win over Detroit on Saturday. The righty held the dangerous Tigers to a pair of runs on seven hits and a walk in 6 2/3 innings, settling down late in a 7-2 win by retiring 11 of the final 13 batters faced.

"Early in the game he was getting behind hitters, but once he went out there in the fourth inning he started attacking the zone," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "He used all his pitches and started moving the ball around. He did an outstanding job."

The 24-year-old righty evened his season record to 3-3 with a 4.02 ERA in seven starts and two of those have come versus the Mariners. He is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA against Seattle.

The Rangers have won five of seven versus the Mariners this year. They split a four-game set in Seattle in mid-April before Texas recorded a three-game sweep at home from April 19-21. The Rangers outscored the M's 23-3 in that set with two shutouts.