Felix Hernandez returns after a minor issue with his back tonight when the Seattle Mariners open a three-game interleague set with the San Diego Padres at Safeco Field.

Hernandez hasn't pitched since a poor showing against the Chicago White Sox on June 1 that saw him surrender four runs, three home runs and four walks in five innings of a no-decision. He has lost three of his last four decisions, giving up four or more runs in five of his last six starts, and is 4-4 on the year with a 3.42 ERA.

After that outing Seattle skipper Eric Wedge decided to skip his ace's next start, giving him a little extra time to recover from a sore back.

"We're actually going to wait until Tuesday for him to pitch," Wedge said last week. "I think we feel like he could definitely pitch on Sunday, but the fact of the matter is, he's going to have six starts either way before the break, so it makes more sense to take the cautious route and wait until Tuesday."

Hernandez has faced the Padres eight times and is 4-2 against them with a 3.07 ERA.

The Mariners will no doubt welcome the former American League Cy Young Award winner back with open arms after dropping two of three over the weekend to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Seattle had won the opener of that three-game set, but lost the final two games, falling 8-2 in Sunday's finale.

Kyle Seager crushed a solo home run and Michael Saunders had an RBI double for the M's, while Blake Beavan (3-6) was hammered for six runs on five hits and two walks in just two innings of work.

San Diego, meanwhile, has lost 15 of 19 after losing two of three to the Milwaukee Brewers this past weekend. Sunday's 6-5 loss dropped the Padres to a major-league worst 20-41 on the season.

The Padres stranded 11 runners in the setback and are batting a mere .191 with runners in scoring position this season.

"That's been a problem for us overall, the batting average with runners in scoring position," said manager Bud Black. "We've got to do a better job, plain and simple."

Tonight, they hand the ball to lefty Clayton Richard, who is 2-7 with a 4.58 ERA. Richard was charged with the loss on Wednesday to San Francisco, as he allowed six runs (4 earned) and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

Richard is 2-1 in four starts versus the Mariners with a 2.16 ERA.

Seattle won five of six from the Padres a year ago.