MLB

Astros-Mariners Preview

SEATTLE -- Mike Montgomery is scheduled to make his second - and possibly final - start of the season when the Seattle Mariners host the Houston Astros on Sunday afternoon.

The starter-turned-reliever had a good outing in his first start of the season just before the All-Star break, allowing one run on five hits in 6 1/3 innings to defeat the Kansas City Royals. He's scheduled to be back on the mound Sunday, but a return to the bullpen appears likely as staff ace Felix Hernandez is due back next week.

Hernandez, who made a successful rehab start at Triple-A Tacoma on Friday night, is slated to come off the disabled list and start against the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm back," Hernandez told reporters before Saturday's 1-0 win over Houston. "I'm good. If (the Mariners) need me for nine innings, I'll be there for nine innings."

Until then, Seattle will continue to rely on a patchwork rotation that includes four left-handers. Montgomery was added to the mix just before the All-Star break, when an injury to righty Taijuan Walker opened up a spot until Hernandez comes off the disabled list.

Montgomery (3-3, 2.06 ERA) has been a huge addition to the bullpen this season after a mildly successful half-season as a part of the rotation in 2015. Montgomery got off to an impressive start after getting called up from Triple-A last June but faded in mid-July. He was sent back to Triple-A, converted to a long reliever and has thrived in that role with the Mariners.

Like Montgomery, Houston's scheduled starter Collin McHugh was a late bloomer who came into his own last year but has since fallen back to Earth. McHugh (5-6, 4.50 ERA) goes into Sunday seeking his first win since May 30. He's already beaten the Mariners twice this season, with a 2.25 ERA to show for it.

Houston had a five-game winning streak over Seattle, dating back to early May, before the Astros suffered a 1-0 loss at Safeco Field on Saturday afternoon.

"We had a couple opportunities late," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said, "... We just didn't create enough offense."

The red-hot Astros have lost only one series since June 12, so Houston will be looking to add another notch Sunday. Trailing Texas by 4 1/2 games, the Astros could use a win in the series finale at Safeco Field.

Seattle, which sits three games behind Houston in third place in the division and four games back in the wild-card race, is also in need of a win. The Mariners won't get another shot at the Astros for nearly two months, and by that time Seattle's playoff aspirations could be up in smoke.

Seattle (46-45) has lost six of its past nine games. Houston (49-41) has gone 17-6 since June 18 to get back into the pennant race.

The Mariners hope to get shortstop Ketel Marte and right fielder Nelson Cruz back from minor injuries Sunday. Both players sat out Saturday's game, but manager Scott Servais said they could be available to play in the series finale.

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