SEATTLE -- He's never pitched in a postseason game, and 30-year-old Felix Hernandez has lost some of the zip on his fastball, but the Seattle Mariners' ace was a huge part of his team's improbable ascent to the top of the American League West over the first two months of the 2016 season.
How huge? The Mariners' once-promising season went up in smoke when Hernandez went down.
When Hernandez took the mound for a May 27 game against the Minnesota Twins, Seattle was 28-18 and sitting atop the AL West standings. He went on the disabled list three days later, and the Mariners have gone 19-28 over their past 47 games.
On Wednesday, Hernandez is scheduled to be back on the mound for the first time in 7 1/2 weeks, and the big question is whether he can lead Seattle back into the postseason hunt.
Hernandez (4-4) is expected to make his first start since May 27, when he struggled against the Twins and eventually landed on the disabled list with a strained calf muscle, when the Mariners host the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday afternoon.
"I want to get back out there and help my team win," Hernandez told reporters after making his final rehab start in Tacoma last Friday night. "That's all I want to do."
Mariners manager Scott Servais couldn't hide his excitement Tuesday afternoon.
"I'm looking forward to it," he told reporters. "I'm sure (Hernandez is) looking forward to it too."
The White Sox (46-47) go into the game with a little momentum after snapping a five-game losing streak with a 6-1 win at Safeco Field on Tuesday night. Chicago scored more runs in that game than the White Sox had scored during the entirety of their five-game losing streak.
Manager Robin Ventura was most impressed with the three runs Chicago scored in the top of the ninth to put the game away.
"To put some on late and separate is the best thing we did," he said after watching his team manage just four total runs over the previous five games. "It shows some fight."
White Sox starter Jose Quintana turned in Chicago's second consecutive solid start with six innings that saw him give up just one run off six hits. Over the first two games of the series, Seattle (47-47) has scored just one run off seven hits over 14 innings against White Sox starters.
"We needed this game," Quintana said after Chicago snapped its five-game losing streak. "(Monday) we'll come back and try to win the series."
The Mariners still need to make a roster move before Wednesday's game to clear a spot for Hernandez on the roster. Left-handed reliever David Rollins seems most likely to be sent to Triple-A, but veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit has also been struggling lately. Benoit, who turns 39 next week, has a 5.40 ERA and has allowed seven earned runs over his past 5 2/3 innings dating back to late June. Benoit served up a two-run homer to Chicago slugger Todd Frazier in Tuesday's ninth inning.
"He made a mistake," Servais said, "and that's what happens when you make a mistake to the guy who's leading the league in home runs."