The Texas Rangers will look to increase their lead in the American League West standings today as they visit Safeco Field to take on the Seattle Mariners in the second installment of a three-game series.
Texas hung on for a 3-2 victory in the series opener versus the Mariners on Friday as Adrian Beltre belted a two-run homer and Joe Nathan overcame a shaky start to the ninth to pick up his 19th save of the season.
Nathan gave up two runs in the bottom of the ninth and was dangerously close to blowing his first save in over three months, but he overcame his rough start.
"The bottom line is we got the three outs we needed to get off the field," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Nobody said that 27th out is going to be easy."
The Rangers offense, which is the most productive in baseball in terms of runs and batting average, went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton finished 1-for-4 with two strikeouts and left four on base in the victory.
Hamilton is batting just .185 in July and has driven in just two runs this month. He still is tied with Toronto's Jose Bautista for the MLB lead with 27 home runs and has an outright lead with 75 RBI in 2012.
Derek Holland (6-4) was terrific for Texas and went 7 2/3 innings without allowing a run on Friday. Tonight, the Rangers, who are five games ahead of the LA Angels, will turn to their star rookie in Yu Darvish.
The highly-anticipated rookie has not disappointed this season and comes into Saturday with a 10-5 record and a 3.59 ERA. However, the Mariners have been one of the few teams to find success against the Japanese workhorse. Darvish is 1-1 with an 8.38 ERA versus Seattle, his highest ERA against any opponent.
The Mariners will counter with ace Felix Hernandez. The right-hander was selected to his third All-Star Game this season, but did not appear in the game and should be well rested. Hernandez is 2-0 with a 1.75 ERA over his past five starts and went into the break tied with Justin Verlander for the AL strikeout lead.
Hernandez, who is third in the AL in innings pitched, owns 44 strikeouts in the past 36 innings. He has struck out Hamilton 13 times in his career, which is the most by any pitcher. King Felix is 11-16 in 33 career starts against Texas.
The Mariners came up just short of a ninth-inning rally on Friday as a baserunning error ended up being a constraint on the comeback.
"You make mistakes against these guys, and they're going to hurt you," said Seattle starter Kevin Millwood after pitching 6 2/3 innings on Friday. "Against a team of that caliber, you have to make all the plays you can and make pitches when you have a chance, and we just didn't do it."
Justin Smoak and Miguel Olivo both missed out on a big opportunity by failing to do anything at the plate with the bases loaded. Smoak came through later with a clutch hit in the ninth inning but was held up by third base coach Jeff Datz on a play he most likely would have scored on.
Seattle is 29th in the MLB in batting average and 30th in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The Mariners have lost their last two games and trail the Rangers by 17 1/2 games in the division standings.
Ichiro Suzuki is batting .272 this season. The lowest batting average for a season prior to 2012 for Ichiro was .303 in 2005. Despite the poor season for the former MVP, he has gone 5-for-7 with a triple and a double off of Darvish this season.
The Rangers won 15 of 19 versus the Mariners last season, including seven of 10 in Seattle, but Texas has a narrow 6-5 lead in the series so far in 2012.