Felix Hernandez will look to continue what is quickly becoming the best start in his 10-year Major League career on Sunday, but he'll attempt to do so in a stadium where he's yet to win a game.
The Mariners ace brings an 8-1 record and 2.57 ERA into Sunday's 1:40 p.m. ET game with the Rays at Tropicana Field. He's fresh off another impressive win at Yankee Stadium, where he has a history of strong road showings.
Hernandez has never before opened a season with an 8-1 record. He was 8-3 out of the gate in 2009, with a 2.54 ERA, but didn't win that eighth game until June 27. The quickest he's ever got to nine wins was last year, when he improved to 9-4 on July 9.
So from a win-loss perspective, the 2010 Cy Young award winner is on the best pace of his outstanding career. But indoors at The Trop is another story. Hernandez is 0-2 with a 4.18 ERA in three career games at Tampa Bay, though his overall record against the Rays is a far-more impressive 5-2 with a 2.28 ERA, including his perfect game in 2012 at Safeco Field.
Hernandez will be opposed Sunday by Rays right-hander Chris Archer, who has been on a nice run of his own of late. The 25-year-old Archer is 3-3 with a 3.73 ERA for the season and has a 1.09 ERA over his last four starts, though he lost a 1-0 decision in his most-recent outing.
Hernandez has faced the Rays just once since his perfect game, recording a 12-5 victory on May 12 of this season in Seattle in a game that kick-started his current five-game winning streak. Hernandez wasn't dominant in that outing, giving up eight hits and four runs in 6 2/3 innings.
But he got plenty of run support that day, a season-high 12 runs from the Mariners, and that theme has continued while his pitching has gotten sharper, with Seattle outscoring the opposition 37-11 in his last five games.
Hernandez has suffered from a lack of run support frequently during his Seattle days, so he's enjoying that turnaround as well as his own increased velocity in the last several outings.
"My pitches have been working better, my mechanics are very consistent and we're scoring a lot of runs," he said. "When you see that kind of run support, it's always fun to pitch."
The Mariners have won 13 of their last 19 games and find themselves three games over .500 following Saturday's 7-4 victory over the Rays, despite a tough schedule and difficult travel the first two months of the season.
"We're playing pretty good," Hernandez said. "We're doing a lot of things right."
The Rays can't say the same, as they've dropped 11 of their past 12 games to fall to 24-39. But Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said he watched some of the Rays recent setbacks and felt they just got some tough breaks.
"It looked like they're playing good baseball, they just had some tough losses," McClendon said. "Listen, we've been there. We dropped balls that were outs during our eight-game losing streak, so I know what they're going through. All I can tell you is what we did. We just kept grinding it out. And that manager over there is a lot smarter than I am, so they'll figure it out."
One of the Rays' tough losses came when Archer issued a bases-loaded walk to Christian Yelich in the 1-0 loss to the Marlins on Tuesday to spoil a strong seven-inning start.
"If [the umpire] calls that pitch a strike, I would have looked like a genius," said Archer. "I would have looked like Greg Maddux out there."
Archer is 0-2 with a 7.00 ERA in two career starts against Seattle, including a 6-2 loss last September at Safeco Field.
"They're a good lineup," he said. "Some of their hitters' numbers may not show it, but they're capable of doing some damage."
Rays: Yates recalled as Lueke designated for assignment
Right-hander Kirby Yates was recalled from Triple-A Durham on Saturday and pitched 1 1/3 innings of perfect ball with two strikeouts in his debut in the loss to Seattle.
Yates, 27, had 16 saves and a 0.36 ERA in 21 appearances for Durham and is getting his first Major League callup.
Reliever Josh Lueke was designated for assignment after going 1-2 with a 5.64 ERA in 25 games for the Rays. He was acquired from Seattle in a trade for John Jaso prior to the 2012 season and posted a 6.22 ERA in 47 appearances over three seasons.
"I swear I don't know why it didn't work out," said manager Joe Maddon. "He's attempted to do everything we asked him to do. He actually did a lot of things well, but without a lot of results. We felt we had to do something. We really thought Lueke was part of our future. I think we gave him ample opportunity. It still may happen for him. He's got that kind of stuff."
Mariners: Road warriors march on
Seattle has had a difficult early travel schedule, including flying from Seattle for Monday's makeup date in New York followed by a pair of games in Atlanta prior to their current four-game set in Florida, logging about 6,000 miles on this trip and having a stretch with five games against four teams in four cities in six days.
But the Mariners are 18-14 on the road for the season, including 13-6 in their last 19 away games, and McClendon isn't worrying about logistics and travel logs.
"We're alright," he said. "I just try not to think about it. I don't talk to my players about it. I've always said, 'You start arguing about your limitations, and that's just what they become.' We deal with it and move on. Keep knocking 'em off the schedule. We're getting through it pretty clean, for the most part."
• When Erik Bedard halted the Rays' 10-game losing streak by beating his former Mariners club in Friday's series opener, it was the first time in his career that the veteran lefty had ended a losing streak of more than four games for his team. Bedard was 0-7 in 13 prior starts with his team on a losing streak of five or more games.
• Over their next four games, the Rays will face three starting pitchers ranked in the top 10 in their league in ERA with Felix Hernandez (2.57) on Sunday for the Mariners and Adam Wainwright (2.31) and Michael Wacha (2.61) on Tuesday and Wednesday for the Cardinals.