Felix Hernandez has been the best pitcher in the American League this season. But even the best run into occasional rough patches. Hernandez will be looking to get back on track Wednesday when he faces Jon Lester and the longtime rival A's in Oakland.
Hernandez is 13-5 with a 2.23 ERA on the year, but 0-2 with a 5.11 ERA over his last three outings. The five-time All-Star gave up a career-high four home runs in an 8-3 loss to the Nationals last Friday in the worst of those three starts, though he still managed to get through seven innings while allowing five runs and 10 hits.
"It was a tough day," Hernandez said. "I couldn't get out of the middle of the plate the first four innings. I was up and I got crushed. Everything was off."
Hernandez had an extra two days of rest prior to that start as manager Lloyd McClendon continued looking for ways to keep his starting rotation fresh heading into the season's stretch run. But Hernandez insisted the extra time didn't impact his performance, and McClendon continues to say he's doing what is best for all his pitchers over the long haul.
"It's a grind. It's grueling," McClendon said Tuesday. "If you look around the league, there are a lot of starters trying to get through that funk, that dead-arm period. David Price gave up nine hits in a row, [Max] Scherzer had a three-run lead and gave up six runs. [Corey] Kluber, who I still think is one of the best in the American League, he got hit hard yesterday. It's tough this time of year. Everybody is concerned about their pitching and I'm no different than the rest of them."
Hernandez is 18-7 with a 2.63 ERA in 33 career starts against the A's, including a 9-2, 2.72 mark in 17 outings at O.co Coliseum. The Mariners ace is also 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA in four games this year against Oakland.
He will try to keep up in Wednesday's series finale with Lester, who has shown no signs of slowing down since being acquired from the Red Sox at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. In six A's starts, the lefty is 3-2 with a 2.66 ERA, 37 strikeouts and eight walks. He has not allowed more than three runs in an outing since June 7.
For his career, Lester is 21-9 with a 3.38 ERA in the final month of the regular season.
Mariners: Zunino back in lineup for finale
Mike Zunino got the day off Tuesday as he rides an 0-for-14 streak at the plate, but the young catcher will be back in the lineup for Wednesday's series finale against the left-handed Lester. McClendon continues to express full confidence in the 23-year-old.
"Mike's slugging percentage and performance against left-handers is better, so I'll rest him [Tuesday] and get him back in there," McClendon said after opting for Jesus Sucre in the middle game of the series.
Zunino's batting average has dropped to .201, but he's second on the club with 19 home runs, has 48 RBIs in 108 games and continues to solidify the Mariners' play behind the plate.
"Mike Zunino is going to be an All-Star catcher in the very near future," McClendon said. "From an offensive standpoint, we're dealing with a young man in his second year in the big leagues. He's got more at-bats in the big leagues than the Minor Leagues. That should tell you where he is. It's almost unthinkable he could be in the big leagues after 300 Minor League at-bats.
"Is he going to struggle a little bit? Yeah. Are there going to be growing pains? Absolutely. Are there going to be times you wonder if he's ever going to get a hit again? Yeah. He also has more home runs than any catcher in the American League. So he's doing a few things right."
A's: Freiman, Pomeranz return to Oakland
Following a brief stint with Class A Beloit, first baseman Nate Freiman and left-hander Drew Pomeranz returned to the A's on Tuesday, pushing the club's expanded September roster to 32 -- 14 pitchers, 18 position players.
Freiman and Pomeranz were optioned last Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, under the assumption that the pair would be back once the calendar flipped.
Freiman, who went 4-for-9 with a home run in two games for the Snappers, batted sixth and played first against Mariners lefty James Paxton on Tuesday. Freiman will start regularly against left-handers, as he was when he closed out August with three home runs and five RBIs in five games.
"Probably, against left-handed pitching, as good as anybody we've had here recently," said manager Bob Melvin. "He's definitely a guy we were targeting to get back and play at first base against left-handed pitching."
Pomeranz did not appear for Beloit and now joins a nine-man A's bullpen. The southpaw has pitched once since returning from a broken right hand, allowing an unearned run to the Astros in 5 1/3 innings last Wednesday.
• Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano had a 21-game hitting streak against the A's snapped with an 0-for-3 in Monday's 6-1 loss. That streak was the longest the six-time All-Star has had against any team, with the next closest being a 19-game run vs. the Orioles.
• Adam Dunn, whom the A's acquired from the White Sox on Sunday, hit a home run in his first at-bat with the team Monday. It was the 461st homer of Dunn's career, tying him with David Ortiz for 35th all-time.
Aaron Leibowitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.