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08/08/09 4:50 AM ET

Branyan dealing with wear and tear

Seattle (57-52) vs. Tampa Bay (60-49), 7:10 p.m. PT

SEATTLE -- Much has been made this season of the heavy burden the Mariners' bullpen has carried, with the team's rotation in an almost constant state of flux and deep-game outings from their starters in short supply lately.

But what doesn't get as much attention is the wear and tear that some of the Mariners hitters may be suffering as the season progresses -- namely guys like Russell Branyan and Franklin Gutierrez, both of whom are in everyday roles for the first time in their respective careers and are approaching career highs in at-bats in a season.

That may be why Branyan, the team's leader in home runs with 25, has battled back issues for a couple of weeks now. Some of these guys simply haven't played this much before. Branyan's career high for plate appearances in a season came in 2002, when he had 435 while appearing in 134 games for the Indians and Reds. In the six seasons between '02 and this year, he hadn't had more than 282 plate appearances in a season, but already had 414 heading into Friday's game against Tampa Bay.

"I don't know if you'd call it an art, but there's a strategy to try to go through 500 at-bats in a season," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "And how to understand how your body just needs to absorb the amount of wear and tear. And the other side is, how do you stay strong mentally?"

Whether it was due to the stiffness in his back or just the struggle of playing his first full season as a starter, Branyan's numbers took a sizeable dip during the past few weeks. The first baseman was hitting .320 on June 13, and there was even talk of him being a possible All-Star candidate.

But his average dropped as low as .258 recently, and the back issues probably haven't helped any -- though he's still the most reliable power threat in the Mariners' lineup. Wakamatsu was encouraged with Branyan's performance during their recent trip to Kansas City, however, Branyan was 4-for-13 with five RBIs in the series and says he thinks Branyan is beginning to bridge the gap and get his second wind, so to speak.

"Just the adjustment period of that, it takes a toll sometimes on players and I think we're starting to get on the right side of that," Wakamatsu said.

Pitching matchup
SEA: RHP Ian Snell (2-8, 5.19 ERA)
The right-hander, acquired from the Pirates in the Jack Wilson deal, makes his home debut when he faces the reigning AL-champion Rays at Safeco Field. Snell looked sharp in his first start for Seattle, holding the Rangers to three hits and two runs -- both on solo home runs -- over six innings in Arlington. Snell kept the Rangers off balance with an assortment of fastballs, sliders and a changeup that ranged in speed from 81 to 94 mph. His strike-to-ball ratio wasn't terrific, but he received good reviews for his effort. This will be Snell's first career appearance against the Rays, but he has faced Pat Burrell 15 times and surrendered four hits, including a double, but no RBIs.

TB: RHP James Shields (6-8, 3.75 ERA)
Shields flirted with history. Then he became a victim to a silent Rays offense once again against Kansas City on Sunday. The right-hander took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, but the game remained in a scoreless tie. He ended up giving up two hits and two runs -- one earned -- but took the loss as the Rays simply couldn't muster any support. Shields has received the second-lowest run support in the American League this season, and his deepening frustration after the game on Sunday showed.

The results from injured lefty Erik Bedard's MRI revealed some "slight fraying" in his left shoulder, Wakamatsu said. There's no timetable for Bedard's return. ... Closer David Aardsma is still recovering from a lanced boil on his backside. Wakamatsu said the incision is "closing up nicely," and that he'll consult with the team doctors to determine what capacity Aardsma can be used in. There's concern about sweat getting in the incision. ... Since July 1, catcher Rob Johnson has reached base safely in 19 of 20 games.

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Up next
• Sunday: Mariners (Ryan Rowland-Smith, 1-1, 4.22) vs. Rays (Scott Kazmir, 6-6, 6.10), 1:10 p.m. PT
• Monday: Mariners (Lucas French, 2-2, 3.93) vs. White Sox (Gavin Floyd, 9-6, 3.91), 7:10 p.m. PT
• Tuesday: Mariners (Jason Vargas, 3-6, 5.08) vs. White Sox (John Danks, 9-8, 4.23), 7:10 p.m. PT

Christian Caple is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.