The last stop on the Mariners' current 10-game road trip is Tropicana Field for a four-game series against the Rays, starting Monday night. Seattle will return home on Friday for a six-game homestand before embarking on another 10-game tour.
The Mariners are 4-2 on their current trip after stops in Detroit and Toronto, but also are fighting through stretches of 16 games in 16 days and 36 games in 37 days. As a result, manager Eric Wedge is doing his best to keep players fresh.
"Playing 36 games in 37 days, I can't run these guys into the ground," Wedge said. "Not just physically, but the mental side of it."
On Sunday in Toronto, that meant days off for shortstop Brendan Ryan, first baseman Justin Smoak and designated hitter Jesus Montero.
While Montero has notched three multihit games out of his last five, Ryan is batting .143 this season and is hitless in his last 17 at-bats since April 21. Smoak's average sits at .187, as he has endured a 2-for-27 stretch since April 19.
"Montero needs a day off just for his youth and whatnot," Wedge said of the 22-year-old rookie. "And the other two guys need a day off for obvious reasons."
Wedge noted that Ryan and Smoak both are working on their swings and timing at the plate and will be back in the lineup on Monday, along with Montero.
The Rays are returning home after a three-game trip to Texas, their only road contests in a 16-game span. They exited Sunday's win in Arlington tied for first place in the American League East with the Orioles at 14-8 overall, including a Major League-best 8-1 at home.
Mariners: Felix searching for good stuff
Felix Hernandez will be going for his first win at Tropicana Field, where he is 0-2 with a 5.74 ERA in two starts.
The right-hander (2-1, 2.48 ERA) held the Tigers to one run on four hits in seven innings last Wednesday but acknowledged he was pitching without his best stuff. Hernandez walked three, all in the first inning, and struck out two.
"I don't remember ever [having command issues like that]," Hernandez said. "Everything was going down. I was forcing everything. After that, I was fine. I made a mechanical adjustment and I was good."
Hernandez only has 14 career starts with two or fewer strikeouts, with five of those lasting at least seven innings.
Alex Liddi went 0-for-4 on Sunday in Toronto, but has excelled on the road in his young career. He has gone 5-for-27 (.185) with no home runs at Safeco Field, but 15-for-50 (.300) with five homers everywhere else.
Rays: Hellickson has owned Mariners
Last season, Jeremy Hellickson posted a 2.95 ERA, while the Mariners scored the fewest runs in the Major Leagues. But even in that context, the right-hander shut down Seattle in three starts.
In all three, Hellickson lasted at least seven innings and gave up no more than one run. He went 3-0 with a 0.81 ERA and 14 hits allowed in 22 1/3 innings, permitting a .445 OPS.
"I think they still have pretty much the same lineup," Hellickson said. "I can't tell you what I've done differently. I've been on my game in those starts, I guess."
Hellickson is 3-0 with a 2.84 ERA this season and held the Angels to one run in six innings in his last start.
"I just threw a lot of strikes," he said. "They fouled off some good pitches there the first three innings and made me work a little bit. I just liked the way I was attacking."
As a group, current Rays hitters have accrued a .417 OPS against Hernandez in 143 plate appearances. B.J. Upton has faced Hernandez the most, and in 26 appearances is 2-for-25 (.080) with no extra-base hits, one walk and nine strikeouts.
This is the first of 10 games the Rays and Mariners will play this season and the first of seven in St. Petersburg.