Felix Hernandez and James Paxton, as expected, will be activated this week from the disabled list and return to the Mariners’ rotation for the stretch run.
Manager Scott Servais confirmed plans Sunday for Hernandez to start Thursday (Sept. 14) at Texas. Paxton will start the following night, Sept. 15, when the Mariners open a three-game series at Houston.
Hernandez and Paxton are each expected to be limited to roughly 60 pitches in their first starts, which means the Mariners will have another starter ready to supplement their efforts in a piggyback arrangement.
"I wish I had 75 or 80 pitches to work with," Servais said, "but they’ll get the ballgame going. Hopefully, they feel good and healthy, and then build on that one for the next one.
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"We’re looking at those guys making four starts for us (before the season ends). Hopefully, all four are really important."
Lefty Andrew Albers, who would be scheduled to pitch Thursday, looms as the likely piggyback candidate for Hernandez. Albers is 4-1 with a 2.67 ERA in five starts since arriving from Atlanta in an Aug. 11 cash transaction.
"Albers has done a great job for us ," Servais said, "and, again, Felix is probably looking at 50 pitches. I’m hoping it’s three-plus innings. The game will still be in balance there. Albers will probably pitch after that."
Erasmo Ramirez, who started Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels, would be in line to pitch again Friday — Paxton’s start — but will likely be pushed back one day and start next Saturday at Houston.
Lefty Marco Gonzales is also returning to the rotation for the upcoming seven-game trip to Texas and Houston. He pitched four scoreless innings Sept. 2 in a relief appearance against Oakland after struggling in five starts.
Servais opted for Gonzales over rookie Andrew Moore, who pitched six strong innings Sept. 6 in a no-decision against the Astros. Servais pointed to a need for Gonzales and Moore to each get extra rest at this point in the season.
"Marco is coming back from a TJ (Tommy John surgery)," Servais said, "and this is Andrew Moore’s first time of pitching in September. We want to be smart and stretch them out.
"I thought we saw a good (outing from) Andrew Moore because he was rested the other day."
The rotation shapes up this way for the road trip: Ariel Miranda, Gonzales, Mike Leake and Hernandez against Texas. Then Paxton, Ramirez and Miranda in next weekend’s series at Houston.
The Mariners entered Sunday at 71-71 and trailing Minnesota by three games in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth. They have 19 remaining after Sunday’s series finale against the Angels at Safeco Field.
Hernandez, 31, is 5-4 with a 4.28 ERA but has been limited to 13 starts because of two bouts with bursitis in his shoulder. His last start was July 31 at Texas.
Paxton, 28, made strides this season in supplanting Hernandez as the Mariners’ No. 1 starter in going 12-3 with a 2.78 ERA. But Paxton also spent two tours on the disabled list, which limited him to 20 starts.
A strained left pectoral muscle forced Paxton’s exit from an Aug. 10 start against the Angels. He previously missed 24 games in May because of a strained left forearm.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners