(Sports Network) - The Seattle Mariners have to be relieved that staff ace Felix Hernandez is starting to show signs off his 19-win campaign from a year ago. Hernandez will attempt to move closer to that mark and log nine innings for a fourth straight start when he takes the hill tonight in the opener of a three-game series versus the Kansas City Royals at Safeco Field.
Hernandez opened the campaign 2-4 over his first 10 starts, but has rebounded nicely with a 4-1 mark and a 2.18 earned run average in his last seven trips to the mound. Hernandez, who only had two complete games a year ago, started his current run June 19 versus Cincinnati and followed that performance with another nine-inning stint against the Chicago Cubs five days later in his club's extra-inning loss.
In last Wednesday's 7-0 win against the New York Yankees, Hernandez allowed two hits, struck out 11 batters and issued three walks to improve to 6-5 in 17 starts to go along with a 3.03 earned run average. The right-hander is 4-3 in eight home starts and will face Kansas City for the second time this season. The Royals beat him back on April 26 at Kauffman Stadium, where Hernandez lasted seven innings and gave up three runs -- two earned -- in seven frames.
King Felix is 3-2 with a 2.90 ERA in six career starts against the Royals.
Seattle had dropped three in a row before Sunday's 8-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers in the finale of a three-game series. Cliff Lee posted his eighth win of the season (8-3) by holding the Tigers to a run on nine hits with 11 K's over eight innings of work.
Brandon League closed the books on Detroit with a scoreless ninth inning.
"Yeah, I could have pitched the ninth," Lee said. "It's (Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu) call and he decides when you're done. If he would have asked me if I wanted to go, I would have but he said I was done."
Russell Branyan and Casey Kotchman each hit three-run homers, while Franklin Gutierrez and Jose Lopez both added a run-scoring single for the Mariners, who went 4-5 on a nine-game road trip and will open a seven-game homestand tonight versus the Royals and Yankees.
In All-Star news for the Mariners, outfielder Ichiro Suzuki will get the start for the American League squad. Lee also made the roster for the Midsummer Classic.
Kansas City had a three-game winning streak come to an end in a huge way with Sunday's 11-0 road loss against the LA Angels of Anaheim. Anthony Lerew was dealt the loss for allowing six runs and six hits in five innings of work, while both Victor Marte and Dusty Hughes both gave up two runs in relief.
David DeJesus and Mike Aviles finished with two hits apiece for Kansas City, which lost for the second time in seven contests.
"Two out of three is nice, but it kind of dampens it a little bit when you don't play a good game and have a stinker in the last game," Royals manager Ned Yost said on the team's site. "It just wasn't a good day."
Yost's club will also visit the Chicago White Sox on their nine-game road trip and will send Brian Bannister to the mound Monday night. Bannister has lost three of his last four starts since a personal five-game winning streak. He last pitched in Tuesday's 4-3 setback to the Pale Hose, permitting four runs and eight hits in four innings.
The right-hander is now 7-6 with a 5.46 ERA in 16 starts this season and will take on Seattle for the sixth time in his career. Bannister owns a 1-4 mark and 4.32 ERA in his first five matchups with the Mariners.
Meanwhile, Kansas City's lone All-Star will be closer Joakim Soria.
Seattle won two of three meetings with KC from April 26-28 this season and has won six of the previous 10 games between the clubs.