On Sunday, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon announced that he would push back ace right-hander Felix Hernandez from Thursday to Friday, allowing him to face the American League West-rival A's before the All-Star break.
A's manager Bob Melvin saw it coming.
"I had a bet with our video guy," Melvin said before Thursday's Bay Bridge Series finale in San Francisco. "Looking at the rotation, we were going to miss Felix for the first time since I've been here. [But] not only do we get him, we get him in the first game. That didn't surprise me; I expected it."
The Mariners also will skip 21-year-old right-hander Taijuan Walker's normal start Saturday, instead lining up veterans Hisashi Iwakuma and Chris Young to pitch the final two weekend games before the All-Star break. But McClendon said he's not turning the series against Oakland into an all-or-nothing situation.
"I'm really not. I'm just doing what any other manager would do at the end of the first half," he said. "You have an opportunity to put your best and most-experienced pitchers out there, you do it. Whether it's Oakland or Pittsburgh or anybody else. You just put your best out there to finish up the first half."
Still, the Mariners clearly feel better if Hernandez is on the mound. The 28-year-old is having the best first half of his 10-year career and was just named to his fifth All-Star Game, where he's a prime contender to be the starting pitcher for the American League.
He is 10-2 with a 2.11 ERA and has a shot to break the Mariners record for the lowest ERA prior to the All-Star break of 2.20 set by Randy Johnson in 1997.
Hernandez is also 17-7 with a 2.64 ERA in 32 career starts against Oakland, including 2-0 with a 2.49 ERA in three outings this year. The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner downplayed the impact of having his start shifted so he could face the A's once again.
"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."
Newly acquired A's righty Jeff Samardzija, who was traded from the Cubs last week along with Jason Hammel, will make his second start with Oakland in a marquee matchup.
Samardzija lived up to expectations in his first start in green and gold Sunday, giving up one run in seven innings as the A's completed a four-game sweep of the Blue Jays. Having spent the first six-plus seasons of his career with the Cubs, Samardzija has faced Seattle just once.
In the teams' final series before the break, Seattle has an opportunity to gain some ground on the AL West leaders. Entering Thursday, the Mariners trailed Oakland by eight games.
A's: Crisp sits after twisting ankle
Center fielder Coco Crisp was out of the A's lineup for Thursday's finale in San Francisco after slightly twisting an ankle in Wednesday's loss.
Melvin said he was probably going to give the veteran the day off anyway. Crisp has had a lot of those in the first half of the season, starting just 60 of the club's 92 games as a result of various injuries and completing only 49 of them.
"As hard as he plays, as I've said often, we're going to be careful with him," Melvin said before Thursday's game. "This off-day was probably there either way, but when you see him get banged up like he did yesterday, I'm thinking in my head before the game's even over that today's probably going to be a day to give him off."
Craig Gentry, who entered the day batting .400 over his previous five games, made his 26th start in center field in Crisp's stead Thursday.
Mariners: McClendon wants more out of Ackley
McClendon did not soften his message Thursday when asked about left fielder Dustin Ackley's struggles at the plate. McClendon wants Ackley to be a more aggressive, consistent hitter.
"We've talked about it. At times, he is more aggressive. At other times, he's very passive up there," McClendon before the Mariners finished up their four-game set with the Twins on Thursday. "One thing I'm starting to learn is that he's a very streaky hitter, so we'll have to ride the hot streaks and pick and choose when he's not swinging well."
Ackley entered Thursday hitting .229 with 14 doubles, four home runs and 28 RBIs in 81 games, but he maintained that he felt fine at the plate.
In a seven-game sample in July, Ackley was 9-for-23 with two doubles and an RBI. His OPS in 2014 is a paltry .627. He was out the lineup Thursday for the second day in a row against a right-handed pitcher, as McClendon opted to start 36-year-old left fielder Endy Chavez.
• Hammel gave up three runs (two earned) Wednesday, ending a streak by A's starters of six straight games allowing one or zero runs and pitching six-plus innings. That was the franchise's longest such streak since at least 1914.
• The A's have not finished a road stretch with a losing record since June 17-23, 2013, a span of 11 trips.
• Entering Thursday, the Mariners' bullpen had posted a 0.77 ERA over the past 18 games.
Aaron Leibowitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.