If there's good news for an A's team that lost three of four to the Rangers and watched their American League West lead shrink to one game over Texas, it's that they won't have to deal with Felix Hernandez in this weekend's three-game set against the Mariners.
Seattle's ace, who defeated the A's last weekend in Oakland, stumbled through five innings on Thursday, allowing six earned runs 12 hits in the Mariners' 10-9 loss to the Angels. But his recent appearance put the A's in a fortuitous position, as they look to strengthen their hold on the division.
The Mariners are 6-4 vs. the A's this season, in large part due to Hernandez and the team's series win against Oakland last weekend that started a seven-game road trip down the California Coast.
"They're a good team," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We seem to get Felix quite often. [Hisashi] Iwakuma's pitching well. We've seen him a few times too. That may have something to do with it. But they've also been opportunistic offensively against us."
Iwakuma has had an All-Star-caliber season, going 7-2 with a 2.06 ERA, but the Mariners' right-hander scuffled last week in a battle with A's ace Bartolo Colon. The two will duel again in Friday's opener as Iwakuma looks to change his personal fortunes, while Colon looks to change the outcome for the A's as a whole.
Iwakuma had arguably his worst outing of the season in Oakland, yielding more than two runs for just the second time this year. The A's recorded eight hits off Iwakuma, scoring four runs over five innings.
"He just didn't have the quality of pitches he normally has," manager Eric Wedge said. "He was missing over the plate a little bit. He still threw the ball well and executed pitches well, but he just had some tough misses."
Iwakuma returned to Seattle a day early to avoid a late flight back Thursday night.
Colon helped the A's salvage the third game of three-game series against the Mariners, with the 40-year-old right-hander allowing two runs on eight hits in seven innings pitched. Colon is 5-2 with a 3.12 ERA on the road and 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA in three June starts, allowing just three runs in his last five outings.
A victory by Colon (9-2, 2.89 ERA) on Friday would match his win total from last season, when he went 10-9 with a 3.43 ERA in 24 starts.
"He's just pitching like we normally have seen him pitch," Melvin said. "The velocity is still there, actually. At times, better this year. He's maybe even mixing his pitches a little bit better this year. I've run out of superlatives for him. I think, as consistent as he's been for us, we feel great every time he takes the mound."
A dominant outing by Colon would improve his All-Star resume, especially against Iwakuma, who has pitched his way into the conversation as to who should start for the AL.
"I haven't looked at the numbers that in-depth, but I do know the winning percentage and the ERA ... he's right up there with anybody," Melvin said. "If indeed he did make the team ... that'd be a big feather in his cap."
A's: Production sought from three-hole
The third hitter in a lineup is normally one of the most productive, someone who ideally can hit for both power and average. But the A's have not gotten much production from that spot in the lineup this year.
Those hitting third for the A's this season are batting a Major League-worst .220. In 33 games there before Thursday, Yoenis Cespedes was hitting .260, while everyone else was batting .190. The only spot in the lineup where the A's have been worse this season is the ninth spot, where they are hitting .202.
"I think they pitch you differently in the third hole," infielder Jed Lowrie said. "You see more offspeed [pitches]. I think you're right in the middle of the lineup where there are more guys on base and more situations to drive runners in."
Mariners: Zunino impressing early
Rookie catcher Mike Zunino has played all of six games in the big leagues, but he's already impressing his new manager.
Zunino got the day off Thursday, but he should be back behind the plate Friday. The third overall pick of the 2012 Draft is just 4-of-20 to start his career, hitting from the back end of the lineup, and has one home run.
But what has impressed manager more than Zunino's numbers at the plate is his approach, one more reminiscent of a Major League veteran than a rookie.
"He's been a complete player," Wedge said. "He's a student of the game, he listens, asks good questions. I think he's held his own both offensively and defensively. I've been very pleased."
• The A's have lost each of their last three one-run games after winning nine of the previous 10.
• Even after Hernandez's five-inning, six-run outing, Mariners' starters are 5-4 with a 2.30 ERA (22 earned runs in 86 1/3 innings pitched) since June 7.
• Iwakuma's 2.06 ERA is currently the lowest ERA pre-All-Star Game mark in franchise history.
Jeff Kirshman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.