(SportsNetwork.com) - If the Seattle Mariners intend on challenging the Oakland Athletics in the American League West this season, this weekend would be a nice jumping off point.
And who better to have on the hill than Felix Hernandez, as the Mariners kick off a three-game series versus the A's at Safeco Field.
Seattle, which is nine games back of Oakland in the division, pushed Hernandez back a day so he would be able to start this set. The right-hander has been nearly flawless this season and is in the midst of a franchise-record 10 consecutive starts of at least seven innings while allowing two earned runs or less. He is 6-1 with a 1.40 ERA over that span.
"You want your best pitchers facing your division rivals," Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Those are the guys in front of us. I'd be foolish if I didn't want Felix facing Oakland and Anaheim."
Seattle could have used Hernandez on Thursday, as the Mariners were swept by Minnesota, 4-2, in a game that they used six relief pitchers to get by. Seattle has now lost four of five and has managed just three runs in the sweep by the Twins.
Hernandez, meanwhile, did not get a decision on Saturday in Chicago, but was again solid, as he surrendered two runs, three hits and struck out eight over eight innings in his team's 3-2 win. He is 10-2 overall on the year to go along with a 2.11 ERA.
The former AL Cy Young Award winner may also set the Mariners record for the lowest ERA prior to the All-Star break of 2.20 set by Randy Johnson in 1997.
"It's good for me, but I just have to go out there and do my job," Hernandez said. "It's no different than any other game. I just have to give my team a chance to win. That's all I've got to do."
Hernandez stands a good chance at staying on track, as he is 17-7 lifetime with a 2.64 ERA in 32 starts against Oakland, including 2-0 with a 2.49 ERA in three outings this year.
Oakland, though, will oppose him with an impressive righty of its own in newly acquired Jeff Samardzija, who will be making his second start with the A's since being traded from Chicago.
Samardzija beat the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, limiting them to a run and four hits in seven innings.
"They were doing just fine without me," Samardzija said. "I don't want to come in and change anything and change the atmosphere."
Samardzija gave up two runs over seven innings in a no-decision in his only other start versus the Mariners.
Oakland has split 10 games with the Mariners this season.