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SEA@BOS: Felix fans seven over 5 2/3 innings

After being unable to work into the seventh inning in his last two starts, American League Cy Young Award candidate Felix Hernandez will try to return to form Friday when the Mariners open a three-game series against the National League-best Nationals at Safeco Field.

When Hernandez dropped a 4-2 decision to the Tigers on Aug. 16, it ended a Major League-record run of 16 consecutive starts in which he lasted at least seven innings and allowed two runs or fewer.

"Felix is fine. The zone was a little tight in Detroit," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Felix is fine."

Facing the Red Sox in his last start on Friday, Hernandez went 5 2/3 innings and allowed three runs. All of them came in the sixth inning on a Yoenis Cespedes home run that nearly scraped the lights above Fenway Park's Green Monster.

Regardless, Hernandez (13-4, 2.07 ERA) is still 10-3 with a 1.82 ERA over his last 19 outings. He'll also have the benefit of working on six days' rest after McClendon opted to push back the right-hander's scheduled Wednesday start against the Rangers. Instead, spot starter Erasmo Ramirez was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma and allowed a career-high 10 runs over three innings in Seattle's 12-4 loss at Safeco Field.

The defeat dropped the Mariners to 72-60, and they're now in a tie for the second spot in the American League Wild Card race after the Tigers walked off against the Yankees, 3-2, on Thursday.

Moving forward, McClendon's hope is the extra rest will give all his starting pitchers a boost for the final 30 games of the regular season.

"We just couldn't pass up the opportunity to get them all freshen up and give them all six or seven days this time of year," he said before Seattle dropped two of three to the last-place Rangers. "It just made sense."

The Nationals, meanwhile, saw their lead in the NL East drop to six games Thursday night after the Braves beat the Mets, 6-1. The sweep in Philadelphia marked the first time Washington lost three consecutive games since June 25-27.

Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (9-5, 2.93 ERA) will look to stop the skid on Friday night. He's 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA in five August starts.

Mariners: Saunders still trying to get healthy
McClendon thinks it will be at least a few more days before right fielder Michael Saunders is able to resume his rehab assignment.

Saunders has been on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique since July 11. His rehab stint with Tacoma was interrupted recently when he went on paternity leave, then again last week when he contracted a viral infection.

McClendon said Saunders has lost seven or eight pounds. There is no set timetable for his return.

Nationals: LaRoche coping with back pain
Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche has been dealing with minor back tightness, an issue he said has caused him discomfort on and off for a few years.

After being out of the starting lineup on Tuesday, LaRoche returned to the lineup on Wednesday, going 0-for-4 with a strikeout in the Nationals' 8-4 loss at Citizens Bank Park.

"He's held up well. We've tried to give him some days, and certainly the off-days mixed in there help," Nationals manager Matt Williams said Wednesday. "But he's been producing. He's playing well. His legs feel good. The little back issue is not a huge deal. He's had that before. Every once in a while it gets a little cranky."

Worth noting
• Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager hit his 20th home run of the year Wednesday, marking his third consecutive season of at least 20 home runs.

• After going 3-for-4 in Wednesday night's loss, Denard Span is now tied with Ryan Zimmerman for the second-most multihit games in a single season (50) in franchise history.

• McClendon will miss Friday's and Saturday's games while he is in Indiana attending his daughter Schenell's wedding. Bench coach Trent Jewett will serve as Seattle's interim skipper.

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