Mariners Insider Blog

Watchpoints: The Return of The King

The King’s Court will be back in session Friday at Safeco Field for the first time since April 19.
The King’s Court will be back in session Friday at Safeco Field for the first time since April 19. AP

For the first time in more than two months, the King’s Court will be in session Friday night at Safeco Field.

Felix Hernandez will be activated from the disabled list in time to start the Mariners’ series opener against the Houston Astros.

The King says he feels no lingering effect from the shoulder bursitis that forced his exit after two innings of an April 25 start in Detroit. His return comes after three progressively better rehab starts at Triple-A Tacoma.

"I feel much better," said Hernandez, who was 2-2 with a 4.73 ERA in five starts prior to his injury. "No pain. So I’ll be back way better than I was."

Hernandez, now 31, was evolving into a pitch-to-contact pitcher earlier this year in an effort to work deeper into games and extend his career. Initial results were promising but hardly conclusive.

"The extra rehab start we gave him," manager Scott Servais said, "was absolutely the right thing to do to make sure he’s not worrying about the shoulder. He was executing pitches. He got his pitch count up.

"He should be able to go out there and compete. We’ll let him go as long as he can go."

The Astros will be a good test.

Hernandez is 0-4 with an 11.15 ERA in four starts against Houston over the last three years, although he gave up just two runs in five innings in a 3-0 loss this year in the season opener.

Other watchpoints:

***Houston will start right-hander Joe Musgrove (4-6 with a 5.09 ERA) in the 7:10 p.m. game. He has lost two starts since returning from a 17-day absence due to a sore shoulder.

***Musgrove started two previous games this season against the Mariners. He has a victory and a no-decision while allowing five runs and 12 hits in 10 1/3 innings.

***Hernandez is 3-6 with a 4.25 ERA in 11 career starts against Houston. So he was 3-2 and 1.60 in his first seven starts before the Astros began cuffing him around.

***Jose Altuve is 13-for-26 in his career against Hernandez, while Carlos Beltran is 7-for-16, and George Springer is 5-for-16.

***Mitch Haniger went 3-for-4 with a homer and two walks earlier this season in two games against Musgrove. Kyle Seager was 2-for-5, and Robinson Cano was 2-for-6. But Nelson Cruz was 1-for-5, and Danny Valencia was 1-for-8.

***Houston holds a 5-2 edge in the season series, but the teams haven’t played since April 12.

***The Mariners are in second place in the American League West Division after winning 17 of their last 25, but they trail first-place Houston by 12 1/2 games.

***The Astros are 50-24 after sweeping a four-game series at Oakland. No other American League team has more than 40 victories.

***Ben Gamel has a 14-game hitting streak and has hits in 24 of his last 25 games. His .352 average would lead the American League if he had eight more plate appearances.

***The Astros have three of the American League’s top seven players in WAR (wins above replacement) rating: Dallas Keuchel is fifth at 3.3, followed by Altuve at 3.3 and Carlos Correa at 3.1.

***Keuchel is currently on the disabled list because of a nerve issue in his neck. He is 9-0 and leads the American League with a 1.67 ERA.

***The Astros have four starting pitchers on the disabled list: Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Collin McHugh and Charlie Morton. McCullers is expected to be activated in time to start Saturday.

TIME CAPSULE

It was nine years ago Friday — June 23, 2008 — that Felix Hernandez hit a grand slam against Johan Santana in a 5-2 victory over the Mets in New York.

It was the first grand slam in MLB history by an American League pitcher in interleague play, and the first homer of any kind by a pitcher in Mariners history.

Hernandez subsequently suffered an ankle injury with two outs in the fifth inning while covering the plate on a run-scoring wild pitch. He left the game at that point and remained sidelined until July 11.

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

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