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Felix Hernandez, Mariners Aim For Series Split With Indians Sunday

(Sports Network) - Felix Hernandez will attempt to atone for a recent loss to the Cleveland Indians and help the Seattle Mariners earn a split of a four- game series with that above-mentioned opponent when the ace pitcher toes the rubber this afternoon at Safeco Field.

Hernandez's only setback over his past five starts took place against the Indians in Cleveland on August 15. The All-Star right-hander had a shutout after six innings of that contest, but was tagged for six runs -- all of which were unearned due to an error by teammate Chone Figgins -- in the seventh and served up a game-breaking grand slam to the Tribe's Travis Hafner.

The 24-year-old has bounced back quite well from that performance, however. Hernandez yielded just two runs -- one earned -- over a combined 15 1/3 innings in back-to-back road victories over the New York Yankees and Boston in his next two starts, then delivered seven scoreless frames in a tough-luck no- decision against theAngels on Tuesday.

Over his last five assignments, Hernandez has let up a mere one earned run and struck out 47 batters over 37 innings while posting a 3-1 record. His 2.38 ERA and 200 strikeouts for the season are both the second-best marks in the American League.

The native Venezuelan, who sports a 2.29 ERA at Safeco Field this year, is 3-3 with a 3.22 ERA in five career starts against the Indians.

Cleveland has won two of the first three tests of this September set between last-place teams and came through with a 4-2 decision on Saturday behind 6 2/3 strong innings from starting pitcher Mitch Talbot (9-11). The rookie right- hander yielded just one unearned run and struck out six Mariners to end a nine-start winless streak in which he went 0-5.

"It was nice to see Talbot come back and have a good outing," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He's been struggling a little bit since he came back from the DL. [Saturday] he was very good, threw a lot of first pitch strikes, had that good changeup and a good cutter and gave us seven solid innings."

Cleveland gave Talbot an early cushion by scoring four unanswered runs off Seattle starter David Pauley over the game's first four innings, with Hafner, Asdrubral Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo and Michael Brantley all coming through with RBI singles.

Pauley (2-7) did last six innings and surrendered the four runs on seven hits while striking out five.

"I think Pauley wasn't as sharp as he has been," said Mariners manager Daren Brown. "I thought he left some pitches in the middle of the plate, he had trouble getting his breaking balls over early and they just sat on the fastball and took the sinker away from him."

Ex-Indian Russell Branyan had a solo homer for Seattle, his second of the series, and finished 2-for-3 in Saturday's loss.

Acta will hand the ball to Jeanmar Gomez in this afternoon's finale, with the rookie filling in for originally-scheduled starter Justin Masterson due to the latter having to attend to a family matter.

Gomez has made seven starts for the Indians this season and gone 3-2 with a very respectable 3.08 ERA, though he's 0-2 with a 5.52 ERA over his last three times out. The young right-hander did pitch decent in an August 28 matchup against Kansas City, allowing two runs on six hits over 5 2/3 innings while not receiving a decision in his team's 4-3 win.

This will be the first-ever appearance against Seattle for Gomez, who's just 1-2 with a 5.79 ERA in three starts on the road this year.

Though these teams have split six meetings this season, Cleveland has taken seven of its last eight games against the Mariners held in Safeco Field.